‘Poking the bear’: Tahoe’s North Shore supervisor stands against colleague’s threat to sue governor

Rebecca O’neil

On May 5, before Placer County entered Stage 2 of reopening this week, county supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution calling Gov. Gavin Newsom to terminate the state of emergency and rescind the stay-at-home order altogether.

“My district in particular is very rural and tourism recreation-focused,” said District 5’s supervisor, Cindy Gustafson, who represents the eastern county, including Tahoe’s North Shore. “We haven’t been hit as hard with the virus itself, but may have more long-ranging economic consequences because of it.”

Even so, Gustafson said she did not identify with her colleague, District 4’s County Supervisor Kirk Uhler, who made headlines earlier this week by saying the charter county may seek a legal injunction against the state if restrictions were not lifted.

“One of my fellow supervisors put his own spin on his reasons and took on the governor in a more emphatic way,” Gustafson said. “I did not do that and in fact, clarified my position on the public record that I truly honor what the governor has done and he has led our state to flatten the curve and be ahead of many other states in how we’ve reacted and responded to the virus.”

“A pandemic is a pandemic. It doesn’t care what party you’re from, where you live. … it’s a personal responsibility issue in order to keep moving in a positive direction.” David Polivy, Truckee mayor

Gustafson said the Placer County Supervisors determined they would not sue the state in a closed session on Mon. May 11.

Gustafson offered amendments to the resolution’s wording that were unproductive, including the request “that the Governor immediately adhere to state law” and lift the stay-at-home order.

“I felt like it was poking the bear,” Gustafson said. “It was irritating the governor and it wasn’t how I felt.”

Even though not all of Gustafson’s amendments were included in the final letter, her vote in favor signaled solidarity with her colleagues and constituents.

“You try to stand your ground when you need to and compromise to move things forward,” Gustafson said. “I felt like, especially given the governor’s message the day before, that he was going to do this and our resolution, by the time we took action on it was almost moot, in my mind.”

The resolution is currently moot. Placer and Nevada counties have been approved for Phase 2 of reopening.

Gustafson said for her, the resolution encouraged and rewarded more agency and accountability on a local level.

“At the county level, we are the ones who have to enforce what is mandated from above,” Gustafson said. “What we heard loud and clear from the business community was their leadership in wanting to protect their employees and their guests.”

Gustafson said local business leaders, including resort executives, earned her trust by taking the risk of COVID-19 seriously prior to the government-issued shelter-in-place order.

Rural counties up and down the state, including Stanislaus, Yuba and Sutter counties, have taken issue with COVID-19-related rules, regulations and closures intended to “flatten the curve.”

“There isn’t a one size fits all approach to deal with the entire state of California,” Truckee Mayor Dave Polivy said. “At the end of the day, our governor has done a pretty strong job. I think it takes a lot of bravery and a lot of guts to make a lot of the decisions that he has had to make.”

Polivy appreciates the challenges leaders are facing on the state and county level, especially because of Truckee’s limited capacity.

“We always want local control, but here in Truckee we don’t have a public health officer,” Polivy said. “We don’t do testing, we’re not in charge of contact tracing, but we’re supportive of the work that’s happening at Nevada County.”

Polivy acknowledged the important role of local prescriptions and solutions as balancing forces during a larger health crisis.

As seven neighboring counties move into Phase 2, Polivy predicts serious challenges.

“Everyone was screaming and yelling to open back up, and at the same time, they’re not willing to wear a mask,” Polivy said. “It presents a challenging dynamic where there are real public health issues happening and we have to recognize and respect that.”


Sacramento State political science professor Wesley Hussey said every county is eager to open, but that local leaders considering state-targeted legal action are likely doing it for partisan publicity.

“Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln, the suburban areas, are going to be driven by a lot more politics and they’re probably more philosophically opposed to the state area, whereas Truckee, and the more rural areas are more economically opposed,” Hussey said.

Hussey said because of that, rural areas may be more open and inclined to work with the state to open and suburban areas may be more interested in “taking a stand” and filing a lawsuit.

Hussey said state leaders, namely the California Attorney General, sue the federal government often when the leaders are from opposing political parties. The relationship between county and state however is quite different than the autonomous power of states in relationship with the fed, he said.

“Legal injunctions are far less likely on a county-to-state level because counties don’t have the same independence as state governments,” Hussey said.

Counties and cities exist because they make it easier for the state to provide services to people, Hussey said, therein the state has the power to amend its constitution and dissolve those local governances. Conversely, there’s no argument that the federal government can do away with states. Within each, the state government can do whatever it wants vis-a-vis local government and they’ve demonstrated repeatedly that they can.

Polivy said he does not have the patience for the “mask-no mask” conversation anymore.

“A pandemic is a pandemic. It doesn’t care what party you’re from, where you live. It’s transferred from person to person so it’s a personal responsibility issue in order to keep moving in a positive direction,” Polivy said.


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Rebecca O’Neil is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact her at

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