OC Supervisors Debate Reopening Plan for Businesses


SANTA ANA (CNS) - A week after Orange County's Board of Supervisors approved guidelines for businesses to reopen, officials continued today to struggle to explain to the public what they mean.

Last week, Supervisor Don Wagner, who serves on an ad hoc economic recovery committee with Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, assured the public the guidelines do not supersede any of the state's stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Supervisor Doug Chaffee said his office sent an email to constituents explaining that the guidelines were only advisory and several residents angrily recounted at Tuesday's board meeting how the quarantine conditions are strangling their businesses and called on the supervisors to ignore Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive orders, which some claimed are “illegal.”

Chaffee proposed issuing a news release from the county to clarify what the guidelines mean, but when Supervisor Andrew Do expressed some confusion as to what exactly Chaffee wanted to say in the release he backed off and asked county staff to come up with a news release the board can consider next week.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said her office has received hundreds of phone calls from residents inquiring whether the county is allowing businesses to reopen.

Wagner, while emphasizing that the county cannot overstep state authority, nevertheless on Monday advocated that the county not enforce Newsom's orders such as the one halting restaurants from dine-in service.

“If the governor wants to bring the California Highway Patrol or the National Guard out he can do whatever he wants to do,” Wagner told reporters in a conference call on Monday.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Wagner said the business guidelines approved last week “do not supersede orders of the state.”


However, referring to one yoga instructor at Tuesday's board meeting who said her business is failing and her young daughter is struggling with the stifling, stay-at-home orders, Wagner said, “To that young girl, who says `Squash me like a bug,' stop it. You're not a bug. You're a human being raised by two strong entrepreneurial parents. You have a full life ahead of you and that is true for everybody.”

Wagner added, “That's why the chairwoman and I have been so outspoken about getting this economy open again. We are seeing an increase in calls to suicide hot lines. They are through the roof. We're seeing a decrease in calls to our domestic violence and child abuse lines. You think those problems have gone away, or is the reporting just down because maybe the abuser is there?”

There is “a price to be paid for the continued shutdown,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the Health Care Agency's warning to Nomads Canteen in San Clemente, which opened for business this past weekend, was a “bobble.”

Bartlett, president of the California State Association of Counties and works closely with Newsom's staff on all coronavirus-related issues, said it was important to look to the guidance of public health officers when relaxing stay-at-home orders.

“It's a matter of finding that right balance, and at this time we really have to rely on our local health care experts,” Bartlett said.

Chaffee said as an attorney he could never advocate for businesses to ignore or attempt to sidestep the state's orders.

“I am particularly sensitive to that because as a lawyer I am technically an officer of the court and I cannot advocate for anybody not following the law,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee, who serves on an ad-hoc committee with Do to increase testing for the coronavirus, said the testing will be key to reopening businesses.

Do said he submitted a reopening plan to Newsom's office before the governor unveiled his plan and added that Newsom's phased-in plan closely resembled his proposal.

Do noted there is a lot of conflicting information about the coronavirus.

“We all have different views about where we are, how ready we are and how we should proceed as a community, as a state and as a country,” Do said.

“I don't envy the people at the state and federal level. They don't get a chance to say, `My bad, I made the wrong call.”'

However, Orange County cannot just go ahead and do what it wants, Do said.

“This view that the law is only legitimate when it agrees with our political view has a corrosive effect on our democracy,” Do said, adding that it will “chip away at our democracy.”

“The rule of law is the only thing that separates America from the chaos and lawlessness we see around the world,” Do said. “We must follow state law, and I will do so until a court tells me otherwise.”

Do said his proposal for reopening businesses in the county is “the opening of a dialogue” with Newsom.

Do wants to move more non-essential businesses into the second phase of retail allowed to reopen. He also encouraged Newsom to try to move up phasing in religious services with smaller congregations allowing for social distancing.

“We are not asking for a switch to be flipped,” Do said. “We know it's a dimmer that can go up and down as we see fit.”

Photos: Getty Images

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