Three California counties have earned the title of “free counties.” They “earned” the label for reopening ahead of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that Phase 2 of the statewide reopening would begin soon.
Some small businesses outside of the “free counties” of Modoc, Sutter, and Yuba, so designated by Press California, have also opened their doors in violation of government orders. A number are doing business covertly, others publicly. NBC Bay Area reported Monday, the day Newsom said the state can move on to the next stage of reopening, that “in Napa, some businesses aren’t waiting for the stay-at-home order to be eased. They’re opening up now.”
Also unwilling to wait is the owner of a small chain of health clubs called The Gym has reopened his facilities and says he will ignore authorities’ demands he close again.
“They can fine me every day if they want. I’ll let them pile up and take it to the federal court and I’ll take (Gov. Gavin) Newsom to court, too,” said owner Jacob Lewis, who has locations in Victorville, San Diego, and Vista.
With all this swirling around him, Newsom announced Monday some selected retailers can begin reopening Friday: clothing stores, florists, bookstores, sporting goods stores. “All with curbside pick-up,” he tweeted.
The manufacturers that supply these retailers will also be able to restart their businesses.
Others, however, such as offices, restaurants with seated dining, and malls, will have to wait, says the governor. But might they also find a way around the governor’s prohibition, as many retailers already have? Long before Newsom released retailers to curbside service, a number of stores across the state, both national chains and local businesses, adapted, and, without intervention from the governor’s mansion, closed their doors and began serving customers at the curb.
Houses of worship have also bypassed the governor’s orders. After a lawsuit was filed on behalf of three Southern California churches, Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra agreed in late April, Fox 26 News in Fresno reported “that since cars are ‘technology,’ drive-in church services should be allowed under the state’s shelter-in-place rule.”
While Newsom’s reopening plan allows for “regional variation” that permits counties to “move more quickly through Stage 2, if they attest that they meet the state’s readiness criteria,” a gap remains between the governor’s office and the “free counties.” The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Newsom has chastised the two counties closest to Sacramento for defying his order.
Those two counties, which have had just 50 cases of coronavirus in a combined population of 175,000, “could test how far Newsom is willing to go to enforce his stay-at-home order,” says the AP. “He has generally preferred to rely on pressure from local governments and residents for compliance, but that may not work this time” because “his warning didn’t appear to faze the counties’ officials.”
The Yuba Sutter Marketplace reopened Wednesday with its own set of private-sector guidelines to protect customers. Hours will be contracted, while the mall’s “custodial team will be regularly sanitizing so-called ‘high touch areas’ and employees will be required to wear masks and take frequent hand-washing breaks,” according to KUBA radio.
“Social distancing decals have also been placed on the floor to direct foot traffic. Retailers now must limit customers to no more than one, for every 50 feet. As well, the play and stroller areas and drinking fountains are now off limits.”
Sacramento’s CBS affiliate reports that local health officials say “the mall is in an ‘education phase’ and (is) depending on ‘personal responsibility.’
“But future enforcement isn’t being ruled out, either. The mall’s general manager says,” the shopping center “will plan accordingly” and make adjustments, as necessary.
Just hours before the mall opened, Yuba-Sutter Public Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu reminded businesses that they couldn’t allow standards to slip as restrictions are lifted. The rules for reopening “were not suggestions,” Luu said in a letter to the business community.
“It is imperative to make all necessary adjustments to the way we conduct business in our community immediately so that we do not run the risk of seeing a resurgence and need to go back to stricter orders.”
Newsom clearly wants to stay in control. But there’s a growing sense that a large-scale reopening is moving ahead without his consent.
He can carry on as if he’s still fully in charge, but that seems to be in conflict with the way the public is watching events play out. Newsom looks like he’s scrambling just to stay in the game.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.