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Council backs resolution that would temporarily close hotels, motels to tourists

The Brookings City Council declared a local state of emergency on Monday, March 23, and backed a resolution that they hope will curb tourists from flooding into the city and keep the novel coronavirus at bay.

State Rep. David Brock Smith (R-District 1) presented the resolution to the council that asks Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to include in a future order the temporary closure of transient tax facilities such as hotels, motels or any short-term rental of fewer than 28 days through May 8. It received unanimous approval from the council.

Brock is chairman of the Oregon Legislative Coastal Caucus and was presenting the resolution on behalf of the Caucus to as many government entities along the coast that he could. He did not know when or even if the governor would close hotels and motels to tourists.

The resolution specifically targets tourists. People living in hotels or motels and people such as truck drivers, traveling nurses, doctors or other essential workers would still be allowed to stay in transient tax facilities.

“Never in my time did I think that I would be advocating for closing tourism in our communities but that is exactly what I am here to do,” Smith said. “The reason is because of the spread of this disease and the fact that it is three times more contagious than the flu. And the fact that our healthcare facilities can be overwhelmed in a matter of a sneeze in this room right now. Anyone has to just follow what is happening in Italy to see what could happen.”

The state of emergency was approved 5-0 and began immediately. It will continue through June 30. Doing this makes the city eligible for some federal and state funding if this becomes available and allows city officials, specifically the city manager, to move quicker and with more authority related to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Some of the main reasons for doing that are to give the city manager the ability to make some decisions on a quicker basis than potentially coming to a council meeting,” said City Manager Janell Howard.

As of March 24, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Brookings or Curry County, but there were 209 confirmed cases in Oregon and eight deaths related to the virus.

Earlier Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown directed people to “stay-at-home” as much as possible or face Class C misdemeanor charges.

Brown’s order came after a mostly sunny weekend that saw people flock from coronavirus hot zones to mostly virus free Oregon coastal towns that had only seen a few positive cases. 

A couple of cities, such as Warrenton, on the northern Oregon coast, enacted bans on tourists over the weekend. More cities and towns on the coast did the same on Monday.

“This resolution is not as drastic as what Bandon did, or Tillamook did, or what Clatsop County did and Warrenton and other communities,” Smith said. “It is just asking the governor to consider in her future executive order to look at these transient lodging facilities so that we can protect our citizens that have been doing their part to protect ourselves.”

Smith likened what was happening with some cities doing bans to squeezing a balloon.

“As you squeeze the middle of the balloon then it bulges out the other ends and so those folks are going to be coming elsewhere,” Smith said. “Normally we would want their business. Our citizens I don’t want them to panic but they are scared. We have an older population, they are scared and for good reason.”

The entire council in favor of the resolution but wondered if it would be put in place before the next weekend rolled around and with it another possible influx of visitors. 

City Manager Howard said the city attorney had some concerns with what was put in place in other cities but after the meeting confirmed Brookings could do something similar.

Mayor Jake Pieper asked the council to be ready to convene later in the week, most likely Thursday, if the governor had not acted. He went on live on Facebook Tuesday afternoon and reiterated that stance. 

“I’m hoping another executive order comes sooner rather than later,” Pieper said Monday night. “I’d like the council to entertain giving it a week, but before the weekend rolls around if we need to shut down our motels and hotels then I’d like to have that option and we need to plan ahead for that.”

Pieper will be answering questions and updating the community via his personal Facebook page at about 4 p.m. each afternoon.

“There is no doubt in my mind the community is wanting us to close the gates and they are asking for that pretty loud and I know some of that is based in fear and panic and we don’t want to make decisions like that,” Pieper said at the meeting. “We want to keep everybody home, take care of our own community.”

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