Some Southern California Business Owners Will Defy Governor’s Coronavirus Shutdown Order

From the apple-growing foothills of Oak Glen to the Pacific Ocean, owners of restaurants, wineries, resorts, hair salons and other enterprises said they would defy the coronavirus shutdown taking effect a minute before midnight on Sunday, Dec. 6.

In the midst of a holiday shopping season dramatically reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, some Southern California small business operators were making the calculated choice to stay open — or continue offering outdoor dining — at the risk of being shut down by authorities later.

Some entrepreneurs said they’d take that gamble against the likelihood they would go out of business, anyway, if they didn’t ignore the shutdown and continue operating as they have been — in pandemic-modified fashion.

Health officials, however, are pleading with everyone to comply with the order.

“This shared temporary sacrifice is our duty, and it is the best tool that we have to control the transmission of the virus and prevent our hospitals and ICUs from getting overwhelmed,” said Shira Shafir, associate professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

In anticipation of the shutdown, some businesses were bustling on Sunday. Large crowds flocked to Smokey Canyon BBQ in Riverside.

“People are panicking, thinking this is the last day,” owner Pam Nusser said.

But if her restaurant stops serving customers at tables, she said, it won’t be able to pay its expenses. She plans to continue outdoor dining.

The popular Silver Dollar Pancake House restaurant in Corona had no immediate plans to curtail dining, either. And as news of the pending shutdown spread, the Blackbird Tavern in Old Town Temecula announced Friday, Dec. 4. on its Facebook page that it would stay open. “You have had our back, and now we have yours!!” the post read. The owner could not be reached Sunday.

To the north in San Bernardino County, the owner of Riley’s Farm in touristy, apple-picking Oak Glen near Yucaipa vowed to continue holding holiday-themed gatherings.

Jim Riley said his farm has scheduled holiday dinner programs several nights this month, and those “are almost sold out.”

Riley has been defiant all along. “We may even plan more activities to spite the governor,” he added.

Tony Roman, who never shut down his Basilico’s Pasta e Vino eatery in Huntington Beach, also was openly resistant, with a theme that has grabbed headlines and placed his liquor license in jeopardy.

“We have Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) actions against us with the threat of revocation, and we have a criminal case against us, too,” Roman wrote in an email.

His plan to defy Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest order sounded familiar: “When you lose your freedoms, they are gone forever.”

100 people at a party

The bold stances followed statements by some Southern California sheriffs over the weekend saying they would largely take a hands-off approach to enforcement of the new order.

And they came on a day when about 100 people attended an overnight party at a dance studio in Placentia, violating existing coronavirus prohibitions against gatherings even before the shutdown would go into effect. Officers were summoned to the studio early Sunday after a fight broke out and a man was shot twice in the leg, said Placentia Police Sgt. Chris Anderson.

Newsom on Thursday, Dec. 3 announced plans for the sweeping new stay-at-home order barring outdoor dining, closing wineries, hair and nail salons and barber shops, and prohibiting many other activities.

The governor said the order would be triggered on a region-by-region basis when hospital intensive-care bed capacity in a particular area fell to 15% or lower. By Saturday, just 12.5% of such beds were available in the Southern California region.

For purposes of the order, the state defined Southern California as Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

In Riverside County, Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a video message critical of the order that his agency’s approach would remain as it has throughout the pandemic, relying on county residents to protect themselves.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes issued a similar statement, saying it was “disingenuous” to “put the onus on law enforcement to enforce these orders.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanuea said on Twitter his department has emphasized voluntary compliance but would begin “targeted enforcement on super-spreader events.”

Eatery shut down

There have been some attempts at enforcement.

In Redondo Beach, the popular breakfast diner Eat at Joe’s was closed on Sunday following action by public health inspectors two days earlier.

Owner Alex Jordan had defied health orders beginning a week earlier to shut down the restaurant’s outdoor patio. It remained open last weekend, however, and throughout the week in an open act of disobedience.

His stance against county orders, which Jordan said was in support of his workers more than anything, made the restaurant a focus of media reports and drew large crowds of faithful throughout the week to the local greasy spoon that’s been a mainstay in the beach city for decades.

After a follow-up visit by health inspectors on Wednesday, Jordan was ordered to close his outdoor dining area by Friday. But when an inspector visited around noon on Friday, people were still using the seating space.

The restaurant was closed and fined $500. Jordan said he would appeal.

Meanwhile in Manhattan Beach, county health inspectors were taking a closer look at a city policy to keep the outdoor dining areas intact and allow people to use them as public seating areas where people can visit, drink coffee or eat food take-out orders.

L.A. County health officials warned dining in such areas is prohibited.

‘Near impossible’ to operate

Bill Wilson, owner of Wilson Creek Winery in the Temecula area, said he would comply with the order.

“We are going to go back to to-go take-out and bottle sales pickup,” Wilson said.

However, he has heard that a few area wineries may remain open.

“I’m not going to do it, but I don’t blame them for moving forward, doing what they have to do to stay in business,” Wilson said.

He said it is difficult under normal conditions to operate a winery.

“It’s near impossible when you throw COVID into the equation,” Wilson said.

For Lu Garcia Reynoso, who runs a small barbershop in Gardena, the news that hair salons and personal care services would have to close — again — was disheartening. Before the pandemic, her shop Barber Society saw 10 to 15 customers a day; now, said Reynoso, she’s down to three to five. She said she will stay open.

Reynoso is a member of the advisory board for the 500-member California Beauty Federation. She said hairstylists are in a tough spot: If they shut down and comply, they risk bankruptcy; if they defy the order, they risk losing their license.

What concerns her the most, she said, is the order may push many shops underground.

“This will encourage people to board up their windows and take clients in secret,” she said.

Still, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Perris, a Republican, said more enforcement is needed.

“People absolutely should be arrested for not wearing masks,” Perris said. “Most of these people have never been arrested before. Spend one night incarcerated and they won’t do it again.”

‘Fake Winter Formal’

Of course, a lockdown can control only so much. Perhaps not teenagers. Or their parents.

Los Alamitos High School families got wind two weeks ago that a clique of parents were planning what they called a “Fake Winter Formal” at a Huntington Beach hotel’s courtyard on Saturday, Dec. 5. Thirty-six students were to attend, along with parents – who signed up to bring snacks, decorations and hand sanitizer.

In normal years, the high school hosts a real formal in December.

A dozen or so upset parents peppered the Los Alamitos Unified School District with concerns, some demanding the students who attend quarantine for two weeks. Students have been back on campus most of the school year.

“These parents are not following CDC guidelines,” said Debbie Ferdman, a Los Alamitos attorney. “My kids do nothing – except for an occasional bike ride with friends. They are so bored. But we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

Superintendent Andrew Pulver said there is little school officials can do. “We don’t have any jurisdiction over what kids are doing outside of school,” he said.

Instead, via continual emails, the district nudges families to follow safety protocols.

“We remind our community that it’s up to all of us to protect everyone,” Pulver said.


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