California Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed some of the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in America, and some Golden State residents are starting to revolt.
Newsom's "dictatorial attitude toward California residents while dining in luxury, traveling, and keeping his business open and his kids in private school is very telling about his attitude towards California residents, his feelings about the virus, and it is extremely hypocritical," said Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco in a December 4 video announcing that his department wouldn't be enforcing the governor's latest order.
Sheriffs in Los Angeles County, El Dorado County, Orange County, and even the governor's home county of Sacramento, have also said they will not enforce aspects of the lockdown order.
Bianco says county sheriffs are acting within their legal authority.
"We're constitutional officers. Some of the sheriffs believe that it's a constitutional violation," says Bianco. "As a law enforcement officer, we're given very broad discretion on enforcement….We don't have to arrest just because there is a law."
On December 3, Newsom's stay-at-home order barred in-person dining of any kind at restaurants where hospital ICU capacity has fallen below 15 percent, as it has in four out of five California regions. But there's no evidence that the shutdown has stemmed the growth in cases, hospital admissions, or fatalities
Several restaurants in Riverside County are defying the ban, including Marla's Cocina and Cantina in the city of Beaumont.
"I've been playing by the rules way too long….It's getting to a point of ridiculousness," says owner Diego Rose, who says he tried converting the restaurant to takeout-only in March and began losing money every day of operation.
"At that point, you have to make a decision. Do you shut your doors and lose all your inventory and let your staff go in hopes that somebody along the way knew what they were talking about?" says Rose.
California's order to stop outdoor dining has generated outrage, controversy, and legal challenges. A county judge invalidated L.A. County's outdoor dining ban on the grounds that there's a lack of scientific evidence to justify it.
Rose is even permitting his customers to dine inside, though he's spaced out the tables and installed extra ventilation. He also spent about $35,000 converting a previously indoor space into an open-air patio and keeps the restaurant doors open whenever possible.
"At this point with this shutdown, we really have just kind of decided…we are at this point, no longer bending. We're allowing that bending to occur with the individuals," says Rose. "You don't like it, don't come."
He says he's received visits from the health department, alcohol and beverage control, and angry citizens over the past several months, and he's faced threats of fines because his patio isn't COVID-compliant. Yet he remains committed to staying open and was emboldened by Sheriff Bianco's public statements.
But California is reaching record levels of COVID infections. A new, more easily transmissible strain has appeared in the state. And in several California counties, hospitals are completely out of ICU capacity. Yet Bianco says the responsibility doesn't rest with him.
"Making someone wear a mask or close their business has absolutely nothing to do with someone that is overweight, diabetic, unhealthy heart-wise, possibly cancer going through treatments with a weak immune system, then going out into public and putting themselves at risk. That wasn't my fault and nothing to do with me," says Bianco. "But no one wants to take personal responsibility. It's better if you blame someone else."
There is little evidence that in-person dining, particularly outdoors, is a major source of COVID-19 spread, a fact that state health director Mark Ghaly appeared to admit in a December 8 press briefing.
The ban "really has to do with keeping people at home, not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining," said Ghaly.
Research out of New York City found that 74 percent of COVID spread happens in households.
Rose, who once worked as an emergency room nurse, says that the responsibility for stopping the spread of COVID to the vulnerable doesn't rest with law enforcement or business owners.
"Every individual has to keep and maintain the amount of risk they're willing to assume. And that's inherent to the individual," says Rose.
California's stay-at-home order prohibiting restaurants in counties with available ICU capacity below 15 percent remains in effect.
A judge in San Diego county ruled that restaurants there can remain open pending a ruling in an ongoing lawsuit, and San Bernardino County has filed suit against the governor in the state's Supreme Court to keep its businesses open.
Rose says he hopes more restaurants ignore the order and reopen.
"I'm not worried about my business as much as I'm worried about my country. If I have nothing to open back up to what's the point?" says Rose. "I hope more and more people get on that kind of a bandwagon to protect each other's rights….We have to do something."
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Graphics by Isaac Reese.
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