Image by iXimus from Pixabay
Written by Edward Smith
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s one-two decision this week to return 40 counties to the purple tier as well as institute a late-night curfew for those counties has brought some restaurant owners to wonder if they should have thrown in the towel a long time ago.
On Thursday, Newsom issued an order for a curfew beginning at 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. through at least Dec. 21.
Fresno restaurateur Lewis Everk described the week of orders as “a roller coaster.”
He began the week putting away tents because of the wet and cold weather in the Central Valley.
Outside heating is expensive, costing thousands of dollars a week in fuel to keep dining spaces warm, he said.
Word came Monday that indoor dining was no longer allowed. So Everk drove down to Temecula, California to pick up tents, lighting and heaters more suited for the weather. It was only “five minutes later” that the curfew was announced, he said.
“All of our efforts chasing our tails in every direction these people are telling us to go — it makes you want to throw in the towel,” said Everk. “The thing that stopped me from that — I saw the looks on the faces of my staff with Christmas coming.”
Due to operating costs, Everk said it could be easier to just close and reopen when everything is safe again. But he added many restaurant owners are choosing to stay open for their staff.
The curfew is intended to resemble the same stay-at-home restrictions handed down in March. Businesses now have to determine whether their activities are considered “essential.” Health care, emergency services, energy, transportation and logistics all fall under the essential designation. For restaurants, it means a return to take-out and delivery outside the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The return to purple tier is what hits restaurants the hardest in the Central Valley, says Everk. The cost of buying tents can be as much as $10,000 to $15,000.
Under the curfew order, picking up food is still allowed as long as you are not driving with someone who lives outside of your household. Commuting for workers is also allowed. But Everk is still unclear as to whether customers who sit down to eat before 10 p.m. have to leave when the hour strikes. A request for clarification to the Governor’s press team was not immediately answered.
Everk referred to the hour from 10-11 p.m. as the “sweet spot,” when many customers want to continue their evening out.
Mike Smith, co-owner of Kocky’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Fresno, said since March the bar and restaurant has operated until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 10 pm on Fridays. He said that there are no plans to stay open past 10 p.m. — as they did before Covid-19 — until bars and restaurants are able to host live music events once again.
“We weren’t going to do anything past 10 p.m. until we can have some live entertainment here,” Smith said. “You also have to battle the buyer confidence as far as going out to eat.”
Violating the stay-at-home order may be punishable by fine as a misdemeanor, revocation of business license or court imposed penalties, according to the California Department of Public Health. The CDPH said that the State Covid-19 Enforcement Taskforce “will continue to work closely with local officials to implement the order and coordinate strategic, targeted enforcement actions with the goal of adjusting behavior, interrupting high-risk actions and defiance of public health orders and restoring compliance.”
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said in a statement that the Fresno Police Department would focus on its regular policing activities. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims also said the order is not a law enforcement issue, according to ABC 30.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, said they would not enforce them. The stance from Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue is that deputies would only be sent out in response to large gatherings.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said Friday her office would not prosecute any charges related to curfew violations.
While assurances from local law enforcement provide some relief, what scares business owners are state agencies. The consequences of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control revoking a license goes beyond the mere cost of the license. A violation makes getting approval for any future applications near impossible, says Everk.
The ABC will be checking businesses licensed to serve alcohol to ensure they are complying with the law, according to Veronica Andrade, communications analyst with the department. They said restaurants need to abide by the order to close at 10 p.m., but they prefer “education over enforcement,” Andrade said.
“ABC understandsd the economic stress businesses face during the pandemic,” Andrade said in an email. They have provided a number of regulatory reliefs, including allowing licensees to expand their premises outdoors with a temporary catering authorization, as well as allowing to-go sales of drinks.
In conjunction with the California Office of Emergency Services Covid-19 Task Force, the department has made 97,000 site visits to businesses since July 1. Of those, they’ve only issued 146 citations for health order violations, Andrade said.
A health-order violation could include no social-distancing, lack of masks or operating indoors while not allowed.
“Agents try to resolve any concerns with an in-person visit and conversation,” Andrade said.
Everk hopes for a compromise between the need to protect health and local businesses.
“I really feel there is a way to do both,” Everk said. “One — protect the most vulnerable of our population and two — keep our local economy going. There’s no one trying to figure that out and because of that, thousands of people will be left out in the cold this winter.”