Some Orange County residents and officials have persistently pushed back against pandemic restrictions mandated by the state – especially masks – and as virtually all the precautions are winding down, people continue to call for an end of California’s state of emergency.

The emergency has been in effect for two years now, first called in March 2020 to make additional resources available to local governments and agencies across the state to help combat the impacts of the pandemic and institute safety protocols.

There was also a failed effort by Republican state legislators to end Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state of emergency, which was shot down by the Democratic supermajority in the state’s capitol. 

Last Tuesday, the state senate’s Governmental Organization Committee voted down a proposal brought forward by Republican state senators  to end the emergency, with Democrats on the panel saying it needed to stay in place to aid hospitals and emergency responders. 

“There are now 29 other states that ended their states of emergency, are they all now at risk?” said Melissa Melendez, the senator for much of Riverside County. “Why not localize it?” 

Following her statement on the floor, Melendez criticized attendees who were laughing during her speech in the gallery.  

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Meanwhile, scores of residents and officials across Orange County have routinely criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of Emergency as an overreach of power. 

They have also criticized the restrictions and mandates implemented during the last few years, especially the mask mandates at schools and an expected COVID vaccine mandate for students.

Pushback on California’s student mask mandate – which ended March 12 – continued even after state officials announced its expiration date.

Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health orders that shut down businesses sparked a failed recall election to remove him from office.

[Read: Republican Officials Join Recall Effort Against Gov. Newsom for Coronavirus Restrictions]

Newsom has also been criticized by political opponents for not following his own protocols and when a picture emerged online of the Governor posing without a mask at a NFC Championship Football game earlier this year, calls for the end to the state emergency amplified.

Despite the critiques, Newsom’s emergency powers are set to remain in place for the foreseeable future. 

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Officials in one south county city have recently passed a resolution calling for the end of Newsom’s state of emergency.

Last week, San Juan Capistrano City Council members voted 4-1 on a resolution in support of ending California’s state of emergency and called on the state legislature to revoke the Governor’s emergency powers.

“Clearly, when the governor declared the state of emergency, it was a very worthwhile declaration,” said Councilman Howard Hart, who brought forth the resolution. “It’s in the interest of our community and in fact our state, that we return to the government that our state Constitution designed for us.”

During the meeting, Hart said that now that COVID has entered an “endemic situation” it is time for governmental processes to go back to normal.

“We are no longer in a situation of extreme peril,” he said.

Although epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors aren’t yet sure when the pandemic will shift into an endemic and many have expressed concerns about a new sub-variant of the highly contagious Omicron variant, according to numerous experts interviewed by Voice of OC in recent weeks. 

Councilman John Taylor voted against the resolution and said he didn’t see the importance of weighing in on the matter.

“I’m more interested in roads and repairs and parks, in the people of our community,” he said. “I think they’ll work it out up in Sacramento and I’d rather just stay focused on what’s important here and in our town.”

Months ago, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted to end their own local emergency called as a result of the pandemic – so did officials in Newport Beach and Yorba Linda.

[Read: Yorba Linda, San Juan Capistrano Join Other OC Cities in Ending Local Covid Emergency]

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Much of the local pushback against Newsom and state COVID mandates has been seen at school district board meetings, where parents and some students line up to speak out against the now-defunct mask requirements and expected vaccine mandates – calling on elected officials to push back against them.

Some officials passed resolutions calling on the state to rethink the old mask mandate.

Protests over masking kids have taken place at schools, while some students have refused to mask and have been left outside the classroom.

Some parents in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District have even threatened to sue teachers over mask enforcement.

Other people in the county have spoken out in favor following the mandates and masks.

It’s caused friction and hostility between parents, district board members and even students.

The toxic debate around the pandemic restrictions even prompted Capistrano Unified Board Member Pamela Braunstein to resign, citing repeated harassment from constituents on and off the dais. 

[Read: Capistrano Unified School Board Members Resigns, Citing Harassment After School Mask Debate]

Her resignation came a day after efforts by three trustees to abandon mask requirements failed – an effort that took place 10 days before the statewide mandate expired.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.​​

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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