Woodland has declared itself a “sanctuary city” against state restrictions on businesses and gatherings amid COVID-19.
The Woodland City Council voted 4-3 Monday in favor of a resolution “urging the mayor to reopen the city of Woodland.” Citing legal ambiguities in state directives, the resolution directs police and city officials to not enforce restrictions on business operations or gatherings other than to educate or advocate for safe practices.
The council’s decision rebukes the state’s virus response but will likely lead to few, if any, material changes.
Local businesses remain subject to financial penalties from state agencies. Local police departments have largely leaned toward education rather than punishment, though gross misdemeanor charges have been on the table.
“If the state chooses to retaliate against and continue to threaten small businesses, we can’t stop them,” said Councilor Dave Plaza, who introduced the resolution. “What we can do is refuse to assist in it.”
Woodland straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties.
As of Monday, Cowlitz County — already in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening process — had 75 total COVID-19 cases and no deaths, according to the county website. Clark County, which is once again applying for Phase 2 after an outbreak at Firestone Pacific Foods in Vancouver, has 560 total cases and 25 deaths.
“The people of our state and our city have suffered enough,” Plaza said. “If liquor stores, pot stores, grocery stores and other places where large groups of people gather can be open, there’s no reason smaller businesses that see a fraction of the number of people per day can’t open as well.”
Councilor Benjamin Fredricks added that he initially supported the governor’s emergency orders, but said “maybe (the city resolution) should’ve been done a month ago.”
“It is my opinion that the people of Washington are not being governed. They are being ruled,” Fredricks said. “And make no mistake, these executive orders are not laws. They are royal decrees.”
Councilors Janice Graham and Carol Rounds also approved the resolution, though they each noted it was a difficult decision. After their names were called in the roll-call vote, Graham and Rounds took 16 seconds and 38 seconds, respectively, to decide.
“Oh my, let’s see,” Rounds said shortly before giving the nod. “I agree with both angles, but it’s tough.”
Councilor Monte Smith said he voted against the resolution because he didn’t want to send a muddy message to city business owners.
“I get what everybody is saying. I agree. It sucks,” Smith said. “I don’t want to give false hope to a business that they can reopen without having some sort of penalty towards them.”
Councilors DeeAnna Holland and Karl Chapman also voted in opposition.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring unnecessary attention to our city. Anything that could possibly give businesses an opportunity to get themselves in trouble with outside agencies,” Holland said.