Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane signed a declaration of emergency on March 18 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, though the measure drew criticism for failing to go as far as similar measures adopted by other Arizona cities.
Lane’s declaration gives City Manager Jim Thompson the authority to shut down public facilities and “places that may reasonably be closed” and cancel city events. He can also impose restrictions on programs and impose screenings for entrance to city buildings.
The declaration also empowers Thompson to suspend city procurement rules to acquire items related to mitigating or stopping the virus’ spread.
The City Manager can also seek financial assistance from the federal, state and county governments to provide aid to residents through actions like the suspension of utility shutoffs for nonpayment.
Lane’s declaration did not order the city’s bars and restaurants to close for dine-in service like similar orders by the mayors of Tempe, Phoenix and Tucson in recent days.
However, an executive order by Governor Doug Ducey on March 19 appears to have overruled the city decision.
Ducey’s order requires restaurants in Arizona counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases to provide dine-out options only, and that all bars, gyms and movie theaters in those counties must close.
Prior to the move by the Governor, the City of Scottsdale was roundly criticized online for failing to implement those very measures.
City spokesman Kelly Corsette acknowledged that health officials are recommending restaurant closures, but said Scottsdale has no plans to shut down businesses unless ordered by the state or county.
“We continue to follow the lead of federal, state and county public health authorities,” Corsette said. “While they recommend restaurants close dine-in options, they have not yet determined that a mandatory closure is necessary.”
“We have no plans to close restaurants to dine-in options. However, the situation changes rapidly and if state and county health authorities decide restaurant dining rooms and bars must be closed, we would support that,” Corsette said.
Former Councilman Bob Littlefield, a current mayoral candidate, put out an online newsletter prior to Ducey’s order urging the city to shut down bars and restaurants.
“Perilous times like these demand bold leadership. It is time – past time, in fact – for the mayor and Council majority to follow the recommendations of the medical community to close restaurants and bars to on-premises service. Kathy supports this measure and we both urge her colleagues to step up to the plate and act immediately to contain the spread of the virus.”
Littlefield is married to Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield.
A majority of the online response to the declaration has also been negative, with residents stating the city did not go far enough.
“Reading about what is happening in other cities and choosing to leave bars and restaurants open HOPING that people will do the right thing is NEGLIGENCE. Shut things down. Let’s be the city that did too much,” resident Lauren McCoy wrote on Facebook.
“Shut the bars and restaurants already,” Larry Tabloff posted.
The mayor’s office cited advice from Maricopa County Department of Public Health to back up its decision.
A presentation by the department from March 18 states that social distancing may need to be in place for a year until a vaccine is ready and “Closing bars, restaurants and sheltering at home is effective but not sustainable long term and should be delayed.”
The department cited published studies from other countries stating that “shutting everything down too early will only work temporarily.”
The city’s tax revenues are expected to take a significant hit due to low hotel occupancies and the cancellation of major events, including Spring Training.
The mayor’s office told the Progress it has seen numbers from the Scottsdale travel industry for the first two weeks of March showing total revenues down 30 percent year over year and occupancy down 23 percent.
Those numbers are expected to dip even more for the second half of the month due to the increased social distancing measures recommended by the state, CDC and White House in the middle of the month.
Scottsdale has taken some measures to abide by those social distancing guidelines – including indefinitely closing the city’s fitness and aquatic centers and libraries. The city also cancelled all passport processing through May 4 and jury duty at City Court is cancelled through March 27.
The City Court has also instituted online filing and remote appearance options for some individuals who must appear before the court.
The city has also cancelled all city-sponsored programs, classes and special events, including AZ Bike Week and other events at WestWorld.
However, the city is keeping its community centers and senior centers open in a limited capacity.
Community centers are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Senior centers are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is also open but all attractions, such as a the train and carousel, are closed.