LOS ANGELES—Cronies Sports Grill, Santa Clarita Christian School, and New Harvest Church are among the businesses and organizations that have received citations for defying broad lockdown measures in Los Angeles County, California.
The business owners spoke with The Epoch Times about their reasons for staying open and their reactions to the consequences of defiance.
Cronies owner Dave Foldes said he received his first citation on Nov. 28 for $1,000. A few days later, another came for $1,000. Every few days since, he has received citations—until Dec. 7, when the city instead sent a letter threatening to cut off his utilities if kept violating the outdoor dining ban imposed Nov. 25.
“It’s unfair,” Foldes said. “If I need to close down my operation, we will normally do it. [But] then other places—such as Costco, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, and Target—should be shut down also.”
He said he only makes 5 percent of his usual revenue from takeout alone, and he spent $10,000 on preparing his outdoor dining area for increased use during the pandemic.
Despite his frustration with the citations, he has appreciated the hundreds who have gathered outside his restaurant in protest of the lockdown and in support of his defiance.
He said he’s also had police support. “One of the greatest things is … the captain of the police called us and he said, ‘I just want you to know we will not be assisting any agency in arresting you or doing anything like that,’” Foldes said.
The L.A. Public Health Department did not reply to The Epoch Times as of press deadline.
Restaurants have the most citations (36 out of the 102 in November). Next are gyms and churches (with 22 and 19 citations respectively in November). Nine gyms and 10 churches were cited more than once. Three private schools were also cited.
Foldes said the rebellion isn’t “a left or a right type of thing.”
“I have people on both sides, who I know personally, who are supporting us. You can go on an airplane right now, take a five hour flight into Los Angeles, and be in this closed-air chamber sitting next to someone who you don’t even know and they can eat a Subway sandwich that they got in the terminal—it’s so inconsistent,” he said.
He has kept his 30 employees all along with the help of the Paycheck Protection Program. “I’m trying to keep enough people employed, knowing I’m going to lose money, because I see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Since he’s stayed open the past few weeks, he said he’s “borrowing staff members from other stores, big locations, because we’re too busy because we’re the only place to eat.”
A Private School Resumes In-Person Learning
Dr. Mark Wilson, an administrator at Santa Clarita Christian School, told The Epoch Times his school has been open for a few weeks now, despite restrictions to the contrary.
The private school in Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County, received a citation on Nov. 18.
Wilson said that with distance learning, “there was a very real, tangible reality that the students were not performing.” They were struggling not only academically, but also with their Christian discipleship.
He said the school is taking the same stance as many churches in defiance of the orders.
“We believe we have a mandate, permission from the Lord, to train the next generation,” Wilson said. “We’re going to have to agree to disagree [with the county health officer] on this path,” he said.
“We’re here to train their hearts, and when a child is bored looking at a screen or getting headaches each day after 90 minutes on a screen, anything that we try to communicate by way of the truth or education or relationship has hurdles that are hard to overcome in virtual environments.”
Many parents have told the school their children don’t want to sign on for classes because they have screen fatigue, resulting in less students present for online classes.
Wilson said of the government-imposed mandates in general, “there is at least a lack of clarity for the decision-making and the criteria for that decision-making.
“And possibly worse … there seems to be a disregard for the small business owner or underrepresented populations who simply make their living.”
Church Receives Multiple Fines, Remains Open
New Harvest Church in Norwalk, Los Angeles County, has received multiple citations since October. It paid the first citation of $500, but it has racked up more fines while remaining open for months.
“Number one, it’s our constitutional right as well is our spiritual duty to help people who are maybe struggling in different areas of their life,” Senior Pastor Richard Salazar told The Epoch Times.
“We feel and believe we are essential, and that we have to be there and available for people,” he added.
He said he was surprised when the church received the first citation because it was holding service outside under large canopies at the time. The health official who wrote the citation said it was for masks not being worn properly, Salazar said.
Prior to the shutdowns, Salazar’s congregation had roughly 2,000 people. Now, anywhere from 500–600 people attend regularly.
Salazar said it’s depressing to see a casino open on his drive to the church.
“[The casino] was shut down for a number of months. They allowed that to open up and we have to stay closed. It’s frustrating,” he said.
“Obviously, as the news says, there’s so much despair going on and uncertainty. People are struggling spiritually, and we have to be there for them,” he said.
When the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed availability fell below 15 percent in the Southern California region, the region became subject to new state-mandated stay-at-home orders. The orders prohibit nearly all public gatherings and dining services, with exceptions for certain retailers and grocery stores at limited capacity.
The order lasts for three weeks once a region falls below that threshold of ICU availability. Then the region will be reassessed and may continue under stay-at-home orders if the situation has not improved.
Regarding restaurants in particular, it seems health officials are permitted to continue enforcing a ban on outdoor dining until at least Dec. 27.
On Dec. 8, Los Angeles Judge James Chalfant issued a partial preliminary injunction against the county’s outdoor dining ban in the California Restaurant Association vs. County of Los Angeles Public Health case.
He wrote that the county “acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end.”
However, because on the state-level the regional stay-at-home order includes an outdoor dining ban, health officials can still enforce the restrictions.