A group of Southern California leaders and business owners advocating for a speedier reopening of California's economy have created an online petition to garner support, they announced at a press conference Tuesday.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner represented a group of local leaders and businesses who are critical of Gov. Gavin Newsom's tiered system that allows businesses to open at low capacity -- 10%, 25% and 50% -- based on their county's current case rate.
"Regardless of the governor’s announcement today, it doesn’t matter if we’re the red tier or the purple tier, wherever he lands us, businesses cannot survive in the state they’re in," Desmond said.
The group urged business owners to sign the OpenCalNow petition to "let the governor know how many businesses are willing to open and open safely," Desmond said.
San Diego County on Tuesday was expected to move into the most restrictive Tier 1, which would shutter all indoor operations for the second time this year. For many industries, it would be the third time they would have to change how their businesses operate in order to stay open.
But, surprisingly, that did not happen and the county was allowed to continue in Tier 2, which allows businesses reopen with 10% to 25% indoor capacity, depending on the industry.
But local restaurant owners said Tuesday that it's not enough and urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to give control of reopening local economies to the local leaders who represent them.
"I’m just here today to ask the governor to either ease up on the restrictive system or just give control locally," said Mike Morton Jr, CEO of the Brigantine Restaurant Corp. "The supervisors, Dr. Wooten and her team here in San Diego, and I'm sure the same thing in Orange County, they can better manage it than people 500 miles away in Sacramento."
Morton said he had to furlough 1,200 staff members, including himself and his two brothers, when the pandemic first closed restaurants in March. Since, they reopened, closed again and partially reopened with an "unsustainable capacity."
"Now, we're on the verge of shutting down again," Morton said in reference to San Diego County's anticipated move to the most restrictive Tier 1 on California's new reopening system, which was avoided on Tuesday.
Lesley Cohn, CEO of the Cohn Restaurant Group, expressed similar frustrations at the press conference outside one of her family's newest restaurants, Draft Republic.
Lesley Cohn and her husband opened their first restaurant in 1982, a small diner in central San Diego. From there, they expanded to a team of 2,000 people. All but 200 remained in March.
"We have had people that work with us from 10, 20, 30 years and we are so upset about the flux that we are in right now. Do we open? How do we open?" Cohn said.
Desmond, who represents San Diego's inland North County, has been a strong advocate for pushing back against the state's reopening plan and giving reopening control to local officials.
He proposed to his colleagues last week ignoring state-ordered closures and capacity limits as long as facial coverings are worn. The motion did not receive any support from other supervisors.
But the board did agree to send a letter to Newsom asking him to take special consideration for San Diego County's situation, where a surging case rate was being caused by a spike in cases at the San Diego State University college campus.
When Newsom denied heeding the request, the board began meeting in closed-door sessions to discuss possible litigation. County Supervisor Greg Cox said Monday that no decision had been made.
The majority of supervisors, though, agreed that keeping a line of communication open between public health officers, local leaders and the state was the best chance to see results in the region.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's Health and Human Services Agency secretary, said it was that communication that allows the state to "dig in and understand" San Diego County's case rate.
"San Diego is a large county. They’ve done quite a bit to really be prepared with both understandings where transmission is happening across their community, being prepared with testing and contact tracing. And we are working with them closely to understand what this impact might be," Ghaly said.
Ghaly added that he was hesitant to move counties into different tiers and wanted to do so slowly and carefully. In San Diego County, for example, there is little evidence that the above-average case rate can be attributed to businesses that have restarted operations.
"We do empathize completely with the concern of the business owners and the idea of opening up a couple weeks ago just to close back down and that’s exactly why these conversations are so important between the state and the county leadership.”
But he re-emphasized the state would not hesitate to move a county between tiers if necessary.
"All that said, if collectively there is a real belief that slowing things down, putting things on a pause, even moving into a more restrictive tier is going to help us get through the coming months, the state is certainly prepared to do that.” Ghaly said.
“We're working hard with San Diego to figure out how we can support and look at the numbers so we make that decision in the wisest way we possibly can, with both the public health of the San Diego Community in mind but also in the broadest way, not just COVID health, but the broad economic health."