Sonoma County emergency management director disregards coronavirus shelter-in-place order, takes family to beach
Sonoma County’s top emergency management official enjoyed a family road trip to the beach despite a strict shelter-in-place order that has closed Sonoma County parks, beaches and open spaces in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Chris Godley, the director of Emergency Management and leader of the county’s Emergency Operation Center, said he regrets the Saturday trip to the Sonoma County coast, which came to light after photos of the family trip were posted on Facebook.
“I own this,” said Godley, who has been with the county for two years. “It was a day off for my family. Any reasoning or justification is going to sound thin.”
In photos a source shared with The Press Democrat, Godley and his family appear to enjoy an otherwise abandoned, unnamed beach.
“Road tripping up the coast. Beautiful drive and nice views. Family beach time together. Grateful for fresh air and the ocean,” the post reads.
The shelter-in-place order, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. March 18, limits operation of all but the most essential business, and prohibits travel for all but essential employees or residents making essential trips. In strengthening the order by closing parks and open spaces March 23 after large weekend crowds swarmed the Sonoma Coast, county Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase singled out trips to the beach as specifically problematic. Her order shuttered all parks in the county, including state parks and beaches.
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district encompasses the county’s coastline, was dismayed by Godley’s trip to the coast.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” she said. “In county government, we need to lead by example. We can’t possibly expect the community to hold themselves accountable if we don’t hold ourselves accountable as well.”
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin said it was a learning experience, adding that it was time to move on.
Godley’s trip comes as area law enforcement agencies have pledged to step up enforcement. On Friday, Rohnert Park Public Safety Chief Tim Mattos announced officers would begin issuing warnings or citations to nonessential businesses that remain open or to people found loitering in parks and closed shopping centers.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has issued one citation, but it was related to a theft at a Cloverdale business. No businesses have been cited by the Sheriff’s Office, spokesman Juan Valencia said in a text message Sunday.
Supervisor David Rabbitt defended Godley on Sunday, saying very few people can do what Godley does. He called for more lax rules for people like Godley and health care professionals.
“If this was the doctor, in the midst of a battle for six days, and had one day off with family, would it be a sin?” Rabbitt said. “Would that be a story? Or is it only a story for Chris Godley who works for the county?”
Rabbitt said he wondered if Godley’s decision warranted a news story, saying “it makes for a splashy headline.”
He said “the usual suspects” will be upset, but asserted that a news story about the matter wouldn’t be good for the general public “at this time and place.”
“I want my top people who are responding to this crisis to be of sound mind, body and health,” Rabbitt said. “And if that means going to the coast to feel better, I’m all for it.”