BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — As of Wednesday night, all future COVID-19 mandates, such as those on masking, social distancing and vaccinations, will not be enforced in Bakersfield — even if there are county, state or federal mandates.
It’s the result of the Bakersfield City Council vote Wednesday night on a resolution to ban all future coronavirus and variant-related mandates, which was proposed by Ward 3 Councilmember Ken Weir.
The resolution passed 3-1, with Vice-Mayor and Ward 2 Councilmember Andrae Gonzales casting the sole dissenting vote.
Three councilmembers were absent — Eric Arias of Ward 1; Bob Smith of Ward 4 and Manpreet Kaur of Ward 7 — which raised questions on how the results could’ve been different, had there been full attendance.
Gonzales told 17 News via text, had those three members voted, the resolution would’ve failed.
Councilmember Kaur confirmed she would’ve voted no but couldn’t make it because of work. Kaur encouraged the community to count on medical experts for medical advice. Kaur also noted the coronavirus, in general, has been “politically weaponized.”
Councilmember Arias also said he would’ve voted in opposition but had an unexpected emergency. He told 17 News on Monday, this resolution is a partisan distraction.
Councilmember Smith could not be reached for comment on his absence.
“This is nothing more than a performance piece,” said Gonzales. “It’s performative in nature. No one’s talking about shutdowns right now, I don’t think this is necessary. I am not in support.”
Gonzales also told 17 News there was “no convincing rationale” behind the resolution.
Per City Attorney Virginia “Ginny” Gennaro, the resolution only applies to places and people within the city’s jurisdiction, like public buildings, city parks and sidewalks. But city jurisdiction excludes schools and hospitals.
In summary, Bakersfield residents can choose whether to follow mandates. And those who decide not to follow them will not be punished.
Gennaro also said there this resolution likely won’t cost money; rather, if anything, it may save some city finances, since nothing is being enforced.
Gonzales also questioned the timing of the proposal, noting there are more pressing issues, such as crime and homeless, to address: “Why wasn’t this coming up three-and-a-half years ago?
To which Weir responded, “Why now? Because COVID is out there, it is not going away, and mandates aren’t going to prevent them. If we’re going to take a stance on it, now’s the time to do that. Not when we’re in the middle of something.”
“I certainly don’t want the state or the federal [government] telling me what I need to do, and what they want me to do,” he added.
Ward 6 Councilmember Patty Gray, who voted for the resolution, said during the council meeting, “We don’t need to be behind the eight-ball on it because there could be possible mandates to come. And what Councilmember Weir is trying to do is create a free zone in our city.”
Gray added, “That means you can wear a mask if you want to, you don’t have to wear a mask if you want to. You can get a vaccine if you want to, you don’t have to get a vaccine if you don’t want to.”
She, like Weir, emphasized it’s about freedom of choice and said she’s absolutely not worried about backlash from medical professionals.
But the Ward 6 councilmember also called out mandates as government overreach. She said there’s “inconclusive evidence” of the effectiveness of mandates.
“As a local government, we’ve lost so much of our autonomy from the federal government and the state government … threatening us, they’re gonna take money away from us or housing this and that if we don’t step in line with them,” she said.
The council meeting also saw frequent back and forth between Gonzales and Weir, with Gonzales questioning some of the proposals.
Andrae Gonzales: “When did any healthcare provider provide, without consent, an administration of a vaccine? What evidence do we have that that occurred in the city of Bakersfield? Ken Weir: “I don’t have evidence of that. And I hope it never happens.”
Andrae Gonzales: “So it didn’t happen?”
Ken Weir: “We certainly don’t want it.”
Andrae Gonzales: “And it didn’t happen, for the record?”
Ken Weir: “I don’t know that.”
Andrae Gonzales: “Well I do know that because I talked to the Public Health Director earlier today.”
On the legal liabilities of not following county, state or even federal mandates, City Attorney Gennaro told 17 News we’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there.
If there are no mandates, the resolution wouldn’t matter.
According to city spokesperson Joe Conroy, Bakersfield has never enforced any local mandates.
Following county, state and federal guidelines was encouraged, and those in city government had to wear masks and social distance, but there were no active enforcements for day-to-day residents.
Kern County, on the other hand, had a declaration of emergency, which “established their authority to essentially abide by state mandates that were put in place,” per City Manager Christian Clegg.
Per Gennaro, this will be the final vote on the resolution for at least a year, as with other council votes.