Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and others using the pandemic to restrict Californians’ movements should not be surprised that there’s been a pushback. While it’s due in part to the habit of officials failing to follow the rules they set, much of the frustration and defiance we’re seeing is the consequence of politicians and others who handing down guidelines failing, or maybe even outright refusing, to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron said lawmakers “are asked daily by concerned constituents about what is going on with their jobs, their kids’ schools, their ability to move around their communities and every other facet of daily life.” Legislators’ responses are inadequate because there’s a “lack of information made available” as well as a “lack of scientific data backing up the decisions” made by the governor.
One of the more egregious violations of public trust is the preferential treatment of some businesses. The injustices are maddening.
“You can’t eat here,” says Angela Marsden, referring to her Sherman Oaks restaurant Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, “but you can walk in the same parking lot 50 feet and you can eat alfresco on a movie set because I guess COVID doesn’t go there, right?”
In an emotional video, Marsden said that when she arrived Friday to pick up some items from her restaurant for a shutdown protest she was organizing, she found that a movie company had set up a canopied mess hall to feed the film crew right across a narrow strip of asphalt from the now-closed outdoor seating she opened so she wouldn’t lose her business.
“You can see all the work I did for outdoor dining, for tables being seven feet apart,” she says, just before waving her hand at a similar but much larger version of her open air dining area.
“I’m losing everything. Everything I own is being taken away from me and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio.
“We cannot survive, my staff cannot survive,” she says. “We need your help, we need somebody to do something about this.”
Maybe someone is. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has also noticed an absence of evidence supporting lockdown rules. Last week he told Los Angeles County public health officials that they have to return to his courtroom and provide further data and additional scientific support to continue the county’s outdoor dining ban.
“You have to do a risk-benefit analysis for public health,” he said. “You don’t just talk about the risk of spreading disease. You have to talk about the benefit of keeping restaurants open.”
Chalfant expects to hear a fact-based account for the closures when the parties return to court Tuesday afternoon. If he doesn’t, and blocks the county’s shutdown order, then other officials that have banned outdoor dining across the state will be expected to prove their case, too. It’s conceivable that every pandemic order issued from the governor down would eventually have to be founded in scientific evidence.
At times, it seems numbers are pulled out of a hat the way people pick names for a gift exchange. Last week, Newsom said regions in which the availability of intensive care units is less than 15% are going to be more severely limited. The Southern California region of 11 counties, where available ICU units had dropped to 12.5% of capacity by the weekend, has fallen under the governor’s stay-at-home order, as has the San Joaquin Valley region (8.6% on Saturday). The state’s other three regions are likely to soon follow.
Why is the benchmark set at 15%? Why not 20%. Or 10%? Why is 15% the magic number? Don’t Californians deserve to know what the science says about this threshold? And isn’t it relevant that during a particularly hard flu season three years ago California hospitals adapted, as humans often do, by raising “surge tents” outside their emergency rooms to handle the overflow?
So far, though, we’ve heard no officials talk about what can be learned from how massive outbreaks were managed in the past, nor do we recall anyone going over the scientific or evidence-based grounds for the ever-tightening rules. Apparently, we just have to trust the people who violate their own orders.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.