A Winters Tale: State to city: Drop dead

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As an avid Council watcher, I have observed Mayor Wade Cowan in all of his public moods.

I’ve seen him at his patient best, as when listening to a mind numbing presentation from Waste Management.

I’ve seen him in a playful mood, wearing a suit of holiday lights during the Christmas Week Council session.

And I’ve seen him boiling mad during the KWW firehouse meeting.

But until now, I’d never seen him in a mood of utter dejection, of resignation, of sheer disgust, as when I watched him at the most recent 2×2 meeting with Yolo County.

The 2×2 meetings are held regularly and are so named because the participants are two Members of the Council and two County Supervisors, plus other assorted functionaries as needed.

Naturally, COVID and the colorful chart of tiers was topic number one.

In that session, Mayor Cowan reminded me of Sisyphus, the mythological Greek forever pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back as he neared the top.

He too was fighting a rollback, the State and County’s likely plan to take away their recently granted freedoms, and shut our restaurants once again. 

Mr. Cowan was quite simply fighting for the very life of his town.

And, like his mythological predecessor, getting absolutely nowhere.  

Nonetheless, he gave it his best shot.

“If we go back to purple,” he declared, “we’ll most likely have a dead downtown.”

Then he added the unthinkable, up til then only whispered, but now spoken aloud.

“We’ll lose the Buckhorn. We’ll lose Putah Creek.”

“I’ve talked to the ownership, and he said that if they’re not back inside the building in the next couple of weeks, at more than 25 percent, they’re done.”

Can you imagine Winters without our two cornerstone restaurants?

I cannot, and neither could the Mayor.

“Our downtown will pretty much cease to exist,” he said.

The Mayor pointed out that while other cities may derive only 24 percent of their tax revenues from sales of food and fuel, “It’s much more devastating for Winters than Davis or Woodland or West Sac.”

Winters, he noted, counts on food and fuel taxes for a whopping 64 percent of revenue.

“So with no restaurants left, other than maybe Taco Bell,” he warned, “We’ll be bankrupt.”

“If this continues through the first of the year, we’re gonna be bankrupt, with no business downtown. That’s what we’re gonna be,” he said again.

The Mayor then did something few government officials have. He dared question the statistics on COVID cases.  

When County Administrator Patrick Blacklock and Supervisor Don Saylor cited 136 COVID cases in Winters, as if there were currently 136 ill people in his town, the Mayor had the common sense to ask, “Over what period of time?”

The answer: Over the entire pandemic period, seven months.

This is important, because at the time of the meeting, the “surge” in cases was largely based on a nursing home outbreak in Woodland, while Winters remained relatively virus free, as it has all along.

To that, our Mayor was plain spoken as ever.

“The thought that we could have our town completely devastated over some cases in a nursing home just makes me ill,”  he declared, adding, “It’s just not right.”

In the face of the Mayor’s brutal honesty, County bureaucrats reacted as they often have during the crisis.

Administrator Blacklock seemed unmoved, robotically reiterating the rules of the state, offering only the suggestion that Winters appeal to the Governor through the League of California Cities.

Does this mean Mr. Newsom, in between French Laundry meals or while taking his kids to school (when your kids can’t go), might take pity on tiny Winters?  

What do you think?

Mr. Blacklock further implied that the tier system might best be applied regionally, precisely the opposite approach Mayor Cowan was suggesting.

The exchanges reminded me of the famed newspaper headline in the 70’s when a bankrupt New York City appealed to President Ford’s government for help.

“FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”

It was the Mayor’s final reaction that I won’t soon forget.

It came at the end of the discussion.

With nothing more to say, and as the other participants remained silent, Mayor Cowan heaved a deep sigh.

It was a sigh of resignation, of disappointment, a fatalistic expression of utter despair.

To my mind, it is the sound of today’s Winters.

It replaces all the other sounds we should be hearing:  the rumble of tractors parading down Main Street, the twang and throb of a country music band at the Palms, the ringing of the cash register at Eagle Drug (or at any number of downtown businesses crushed out of existence by the State and County).

For those who think all will be well come the spring, think again. The situation is dire.

Thank you, Mayor for telling us the truth.

Thanks for trying.

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