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Sheriff William Honsal sat down for another media availability today. As usual, we’ve posted the video above and a summary of the questions and answers below.
Today’s first question, a two-parter asked at the 0:14 mark, came from your Lost Coast Outpost. It was this:
On Tuesday you said, “The governor has put in place a state guideline to where we cannot go out from under it. We can only become more restrictive as [opposed to] less restrictive. That’s how the state law really, really works.” Two days later you said, “As Sheriff, I am the protector of constitutional rights in Humboldt County, and if an order is issued that I believe violates our constitutional rights, I will not enforce it.” Which is it — that you, the Sheriff, must follow state orders, or that you may ignore orders if you believe them to be unconstitutional? Why is closing Humboldt County beaches unconstitutional, in your opinion, while closing Humboldt County businesses is not?
As a reminder, Governor Gavin Newsom’s office on Wednesday evening issued a memo to California police chiefs indicating that he planned to close all state and local beaches. As it turned out, he only closed the beaches in Orange County. But the brief uproar was intense, and it prompted Honsal’s statement, quoted above.
The Outpost was less interested in the merits of Newsom’s beach-closure order than we were in the apparent contradiction in Honsal’s recent descriptions of his own role during this health crisis. His answer doesn’t really clear up the confusion.
He reiterates that the county cannot implement rules that are less strict than the state’s public health order. “That is the rule of law … ,” he says, “and I don’t object to that whatsoever.”
He then states his objections: There was “no due process” for the governor’s beach closure proposal, he says. The proposed order wasn’t “narrowly focused,” and thus he considered it “arbitrary,” “oppressive“ and “unconstitutional.”
If he were to enforce such an order, he says, “someone has the right to object and to sue.” Honsal also asserts that his job includes making sure people understand the Bill of Rights. And he expresses gratitude that Newsom “changed his mind” and decided not to close all state and local beaches.
He also doesn’t directly explain why he believes closing certain businesses is constitutional while closing local beaches would not have been. He defends the closure of non-essential businesses as an effective life-saving tool and says the county order was backed by “specific facts.”
“Because California acted quickly, because our county acted quickly, we were able to flatten the curve,” he says.
Here’s the rest of the Q-and-A:
The governor has called for a phased reopening of the state. Will local businesses be allowed to reopen by type, on a case-by-case basis, under a quota system or via some other method? (5:45)
As a small county with some key health care preparations in place, we have some leeway, Honsal says. Businesses will be encouraged to implement various safety measures before reopening, and county officials will base their reopening directives on an assessment of risk factors as well as feedback from city leaders, chambers of commerce and results from the community survey currently underway.
Can you give more detail on the role the community survey will play in those decisions? (8:23)
The community has a right to be heard, Honsal says, and their opinions will be taken into consideration.
A reporter has seen more businesses open in Eureka. Is Humboldt County going back to business-as-usual already? (9:07)
The county’s shelter-in-place order is still in effect, he says. Some “essential businesses,” including construction firms, were closed but have recently reopened as the curve has flattened locally.
The governor released a list of acceptable outdoor recreation activities. How does that affect us locally? (11:00)
“What’s nice is the governor is loosening up on some things,” Honsal says. Golf was a big one, though the sheriff says social distancing and hygiene rules must be followed.
Do you have any concerns about people coming from outside the area to recreate here? (12:11)
“Yes, I do,” Honsal says. But there’s still a travel restriction in place. Outsiders here unlawfully could be cited.
Have there been any citations for violating the mandatory facial coverings order? (13:30)
No, people are generally abiding by the rules, he says.
There have been a lot of protests across the country, including one at our county courthouse today. Is local law enforcement preparing for civil disobedience? (14:32)
The Sheriff’s Office is always prepared for anything that can happen, Honsal says. In Humboldt County, we’re used to protests, and people have every right to assemble. “I’m just asking people to be patient,” he says. “We are close. We are very, very close to opening up.”
Some people have experienced COVID-induced post-traumatic stress. How are you holding up — as sheriff, as a husband, as a father? (15:55)
Honsal says yes, it’s stressful, and his department is focusing on deputies’ and employees’ wellness. “This job is stressful anyway. To add a pandemic on top of things triples, quadruples the stress that we’re all feeling,” he says, adding that people suffering from depression should tell someone and seek help. The county’s 24-hour mental health help line is 707-445-7715.
What do you tell your frontline deputies about coping with stress? (18:37)
There’s an employee assistance program, and Honsal says he’s encouraging sergeants and managers to make sure everyone’s okay.
Honsal closes by saying we’re winding down with Phase One of this sheltering business, and he urges people to take the next step slowly.