County leaders say they are struggling to enforce restrictions on restaurants because of back-and-forth court rulings and a lack of unity from political leaders about the restrictions.
According to the most recent legal ruling, restaurants across the county are not allowed to be open for any kind of on-site dining, and owners unwilling to comply are making it tough for county leaders to enforce rules.
The rules have been changing frequently over the last several weeks. After Southern California's remaining ICU capacity dipped below 15%, restaurants were reduced to takout service only, but then last week a judge ruled that restaurants and strip clubs could open up once again. Then the state Court of Appeals said that the county and the state can continue to enforce restrictions on restaurants while they decide whether or not to reverse that judge's decision.
Belynn Gonzales is the owner of Garcia's Mexican Restaurant in Carlsbad and has decided to keep her restaurant open despite the state's restrictions.
"There are about 50 people who have gotten together and decided to stay open for their business, to provide for their families, for their employees in order so that they could pay their bills and provide food for their families, not to mention have somewhat of a Christmas," she said.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the back-and-forth rulings have made it difficult for the county to enforce restrictions and keep the restaurants closed while cases grow each day.
"We know that the economic damage associated with the complete collapse of our healthcare system will be far greater, so we’re making the difficult decisions we can to get through this very challenging time, with a lot of people openly advocating in defiance of what we have to do and significantly compromising our abilities to respond," Supervisor Fletcher said.
Not all political leaders agree with the restrictions. On Monday, several held a rally in El Cajon calling for the reopening of businesses, schools and houses of worship, despite the county hitting record numbers and hospitals filling up. El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells was there and has long said he is not in support of restrictions.
"All these shutdowns seem kind of arbitrary and they seem more designed to prove a political point than to prove a scientific point," Wells said.
Wells has also said that he believes the state needs to look into deploying military hospital ships and utilizing military bases across the state of California to increase ICU capacity.
Supervisor Fletcher said enforcement teams are still using the education first approach for businesses in violation of the public health order, but that businesses in open defiance should expect to receive cease-and-desist notices.