Banding together opposing dining ban
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Several Claremont-based restaurants are pondering a revolt of sorts as the county pushes ahead with the closure of outdoor dining in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The group, which calls itself Claim Back Claremont, is a loosely organized coalition of Claremont eateries that want to avoid the loss of revenue from another shutdown. Joining the group are owners of a few retail establishments who want to show support, and fear losing foot traffic if people are no longer going out for meals.
The outdoor dining ban came as the virus spread out of control throughout the region recently, and as the daily number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 threatened to overwhelm bed capacity. The ban began Wednesday at 10 p.m. and is expected to last three weeks.
Claim Back Claremont’s plan is for restaurants to simply ignore the ban and reopen the day after Thanksgiving as normal. The hope is for enough businesses to join the revolt so they can continue to earn an income while sending a clear message to local officials that this is not the right path for slowing the virus.
Although there is no definitive list of who will participate, the COURIER spoke with a restaurant owner who said the will to defy the ban was widespread. This individual, who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to draw county inspector’s attention, indicated that a large coalition of restaurants in the Village and other parts of the city, have plans to remain open with the hope of being able to make enough money to sustain their businesses.
If they do in fact receive a fine from the county, they could close at that time rather than risk subsequent infractions that could jeopardize their liquor licenses. “Many of us just can’t do another shutdown,” the individual said.
Claremont’s Public Information Officer Bevin Handel told the COURIER that restaurants could face fines from county inspectors. In addition, individual citizens may report violations directly to the county which could result in a response from county inspectors.
“The decision to close outdoor dining was made by the county not the city. The city falls under the county health department orders because we do not have our own health department like Pasadena. Regardless of whether the city enforces the ban on outdoor dining or not, the county inspectors may issue fines for violators and has the ability to revoke health permits,” Ms. Handel said.
She said Claremont is working with surrounding cities to request that the county consider the relatively low case numbers in the east San Gabriel Valley when making decisions about restrictions such as the outdoor dining ban.
“The city is in a difficult position of supporting our businesses while following county health orders aimed at stopping the surge in COVID cases,” Ms. Handel said.
The whole idea got going through a Instagram conversation thread spearheaded by Ronnie Salazar owner of the boutique Ronnie M. in the Claremont Village.
Ms. Salazar was clear that she is not a restaurant owner and was only speaking on her own behalf as an advocate for small businesses in Claremont.
“To see this happen to our community is devastating. These businesses have invested thousands of dollars on outdoor seating and permitting from the city. I just feel for these business that are not going to be able to take advantage of that investment,” Ms. Salazar said.
She also pointed out that “Small Business Saturday” is this weekend and many Claremont businesses are pinning their hopes of big holiday sales on this launch date to the shopping season.
“I started it with the intention of uniting the businesses and to create advocacy for us in Claremont because no one else will,” Ms. Salazar said.
In addition to the construction of the outdoor dining spaces, she highlighted the employee training and safety equipment provided to staff as examples of the formidable efforts that have been made to comply with the health order.
She noted that the coronavirus outbreak in Claremont is significantly less that in the city of Los Angeles itself, so the same restrictions should not apply. Also Claremont’s restaurants have to compete with similar establishments in adjacent San Bernardino County cities which remain open.
The Claremont Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday encouraged all its members to call Supervisor Hilda Solis and express their displeasure with the dining ban. In addition the city plans to petition the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for an exemption given the relatively low COVID-19 rates in the city.
Ms. Salazar, and other business owners, did in fact contact Ms. Solis, however, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors upheld the dining ban during its meeting Tuesday. Ms. Salazsr also called Mayor Larry Schroeder who instructed her to contact Supervisor Solis.
Ms. Salazar will now take her advocacy to the people of Claremont with an online petition asking that area restaurants remain open. The COURIER will publish links to that petition when it goes live.