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June 30, 2022

Watsonville shutting down all nonessential services

Employees will be paid through March 20 closure

WATSONVILLE—The City of Watsonville on Friday announced it will close all nonessential services starting Monday because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, a move that will shut the Watsonville and Freedom branch libraries as well as several City offices.

City Manager Matt Huffaker said the closure will match that of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education announced Thursday night, which will keep students countywide home until at least March 20.

City leaders will monitor the situation on a day-to-day basis, Huffaker said, and determine if the closure needs to be extended.

“We made the tough decision but one that, out of an abundance of caution, we feel was appropriate,” Huffaker said.

Roughly half of the City’s employees will stay home next week. All of them, Huffaker said, will continue to be paid.

The closure does not include the City’s police, fire, water, wastewater and trash collection departments.

Huffaker also said the City canceled its March 24 City Council meeting, and that the City is exploring options of how it will hold its April sessions.

That could include holding the meeting primarily through teleconference, one possibility under a recent executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom that temporarily supplants elements of the Brown Act, among other things.

“We’re going to have to play it by ear going forward,” Huffaker said. “We’re trying to balance public access with the health of the community.”

There were seven confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County as of Friday evening. 

The virus has sickened nearly 150,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., at least 1,800 people in 47 states have tested positive and more than 40 have died, the New York Times reported Friday.

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday, freeing up $50 billion to fight the spread of the virus. 

The City and County declared local emergencies Tuesday, a day after local officials confirmed the county’s second case. 

Two more cases were announced Wednesday and another three were announced Thursday evening.

That same day county spokesman Jason Hoppin confirmed the virus is now considered to have “community spread.” 

Huffaker said he had “serious” concerns of the possible impact the virus could have on Watsonville’s economy, which heavily depends on mom-and-pop businesses and local agriculture that requires hands-on, in-person work.

“We have many small businesses and industries that will struggle to weather the storm and the volatility of the stock market will also have long-term implications for the fiscal health of the City,” Huffaker said.

Along with closing several offices Friday, the City a day earlier cancelled annual and weekly events that keep local businesses humming.

The Watsonville Certified Farmers Market was cancelled until at least April 10, according to Market Manager and President Jesus Madrigal.

Madrigal said the weekly market in the days leading up to the cancellation was trying to come up with ways to follow the county guidelines on “social distancing” and remain open. But those options did not create a safe environment for the community, he said. 

“I support what our leaders decided,” Madrigal said. “It’s difficult. Nobody wants anything like this to ever happen but I understand the decision.”

Now, Madrigal said, he is trying to find ways to help his produce vendors sell their products elsewhere. That includes working with local grocery stores and other markets.

“But at this point, they’re going to have to throw away their crop and lose that money,” Madrigal said. “I’m a little concerned about how they’re going to make it through the month.”

Most local businesses remained open Friday, though some reported scant lunch and dinner crowds and others made adjustments to their seating to follow the county’s guidelines.

Fruition Brewing in the East Lake Shopping Center reduced the number of seats at its bars and limited the number of people allowed in its tasting room. It also set up an online ordering system for its to-go 32-ounce “crowlers.”

Other local businesses were weighing changing their hours and focusing on takeout orders. Slice Project in downtown Watsonville was one of those businesses considering changes in anticipation of more restrictions.

“We appreciate all the support you guys give us and we hope although these times are difficult, you continue [to] support,” the business posted on its Instagram Friday. “We depend on the community to keep our operation going.”

Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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