by David Klemt

Orange County’s #OPENSAFE Restaurant Collective Defies Governor Newsom

by David Klemt

A group of California restaurant operators is pushing back against current restrictions in defiance of orders they feel go too far.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order mandates that restaurants remain open only for delivery and takeout. The order affects five California regions: Northern California, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California.

Throughout 2020, similar orders have been issued throughout the United States. They’ve included an array of restrictions, from banning indoor and outdoor dining to choking traffic by imposing significant capacity restrictions.

Allowing only delivery and takeout is not the health and safety solution lawmakers believe it to be. Third-party delivery platforms and their policies can be detrimental to operators, worsening an already bad situation.

Several operators in Orange County, located in the Southern California region, are, per an Instagram post, refusing to comply with Gov. Newsom’s order.

The statement on publicist Alexandra Taylor’s Instagram account is posted in its entirety below:

“We, as responsible small business owners and operators, do hereby declare our intention to protest the current state stay home order and to maintain our safety standards of service as set forth by country and state health guidelines.

“We cannot, in good conscience, allow our employees and their families to have their health and safety jeopardized as resources to them have been exhausted.

“We will continue and strengthen our mitigation of the potential spread of SARS-Covid19 with the highest standards of safety protocol including, but not limited to: Outdoor Dining, Socially Distanced Seating, Mask Requirements when not seated, PPE, Readily Available Sanitizer to back of house/front of house staff, immediate quarantine and isolation of potentially infected employees, Barriers to prevent close quarters transmission between guests, limited capacity, etc.

“Although eating and drinking establishments (both indoor and outdoor) have shown to increase the potential for viral transmission, current data also indicates that travel and essential shopping have as much as a 10x more likely chance of transmission than these establishments based on CDC risk assessments.

“We agree, as responsible business owners, to commit to staying open with a dedication to public health.”

The image of the statement is accompanied by the hashtag #OPENSAFE and American flag emoji. More than 80 Orange County establishments that support the #OPENSAFE movement were listed in the caption of the post at the time of publication. The original post states that the list of venues is growing daily.

Taylor, the founder and president of The ATEAM, included a caption that read, in part:

“RESTAURANTS. I represent them, I invest in them, I celebrate them, I support them, I am passionate beyond words for them, for the PEOPLE behind them— and I will fight for them.

“This is a declaration for not only restaurants but all SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS to commit to STAY OPEN SAFELY and RESPONSIBLY, while giving their establishments, their employees, and their families a fighting chance to survive this BS.”

State and county officials across the nation can impose a number of penalties on businesses that defy orders. Fines and temporary suspensions of business licenses appear to be the most common. In Chicago, for example, operators can face fines in excess of $10,000. One restaurant, Ann Sather, owned by Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney, violated a ban on indoor dining and ignoring Covid-19 safety rules and faces a maximum fine of $10,500.

Earlier this year, a restaurant in Monterey County, located in California’s Bar Area region, faced fines of up to $35,000 violating shelter-in-place orders.

It’s unclear at the moment if the collective of defiant Orange County operators will face consequences for their civil disobedience. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes has stated that the department has no intention of enforcing Gov. Newsom’s order closing restaurants.

“Orange County Sheriff’s deputies will not be dispatched to, or respond to, calls for service to enforce compliance with face coverings, social gatherings, or stay-at-home orders only,” said Sheriff Barnes. “Deputies will respond to calls for potential criminal behavior and for the protection of life and property. Our actions remain consistent with the protections of constitutional rights.”

Whether operators in other counties across America coalesce around their own #OPENSAFE movements remains to be seen. The consequences must be fully understood and weighed, and law enforcement’s stance on enforcing stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders regarding bars and restaurants must also be considered.

Two things are, however, clear. One, operators have had enough. Two, government officials need to listen to restaurant and bar operators and workers about the impact of restrictions before issuing orders.