WARRENTON — The City Commission on Tuesday extended a coronavirus emergency declaration into September, while wondering how to salvage a popular new fall festival in October that might not be safe to hold.
City Manager Linda Engbretson said it was in the city’s best interest to align the emergency declaration with Clatsop County’s, which runs through Sept. 4, as the city slowly reopens some services. Engbretson is planning to reopen City Hall to the public with limited hours in August.
The emergency declaration also helps Warrenton qualify for up to $155,000 in reimbursements through the state for coronavirus-related expenses, she said. She waxed hopeful that the state Legislature might allow cities like Warrenton to use the money to backstop lost revenue from sources like lodging taxes.
Warrenton and Astoria both lost significant tax revenue after restricting short-term lodging in the spring to protect locals against the spread of the virus.
“There are other opportunities,” she said. “If we can’t use it, there’s programs that we can develop to maybe help out local businesses and things like that. But that’s all yet to be determined.”
Engbretson said she received a call from Spruce Up Warrenton, a nonprofit civic booster group, about the Halloween Fall Harvest Festival in October. Gov. Kate Brown has canceled all large public gatherings through September.
“I don’t how we could agree or authorize the fall festival at this time,” Engbretson said. “We probably put it on the back burner, but generally this is the time they start planning, and last year they had over 7,000 people attend.”
Engbretson said it would be irresponsible for the city to sign off on such a large event on city property, but that the group is also organizing a more realistic drive-in movie night similar to the one organized by videographer Jeff Daly in Astoria's Heritage Square. She asked the City Commission to give Spruce Up Warrenton direction.
City commissioners, balancing safety and protecting the city from liability with the need for a morale booster, reached a consensus on supporting a ticketed drive-up movie night. They also reached a consensus on telling Spruce Up Warrenton to proceed at its own risk in planning a fall festival.
Mayor Henry Balensifer said he was mostly concerned about the city's potential liability from a large event during the pandemic.
"There's a lot of out-of-work trial attorneys looking for something, and I don't really prefer to feed them," he said.
City Commissioner Mark Baldwin was adamant that the city at least give Spruce Up Warrenton a chance to do something positive for the community after all the doom and gloom of the virus. He criticized what he sees as the irony of local events being shut down, despite local infection numbers being low and tourists still streaming to the coast.
“COVID is not going away,” Baldwin said. “It’s not happening. Influenza never died and fell of the face of the planet. At some point in time, we go back to living life, or what’s the point? That’s what I’m hearing from a lot of people in this city.”