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Carlsbad City Hall protests
The Carlsbad City Council did not move forward with enhanced enforcement of small businesses and restaurants violating state and county health orders. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Carlsbad declines enhanced COVID-19 enforcement, seeks ‘comprehensive approach’

CARLSBAD — In perhaps one of the most contentious issues facing the city of Carlsbad in years, city officials spared small business owners from enhanced enforcement related to violations of state and county health orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a marathon special meeting on Jan. 5, Councilwoman Cori Schumacher motioned for the council to approve administrative enforcement of the San Diego County health order subject to city citations and fines but failed to receive a second and the motion died.

However, Councilwoman Teresa Acosta was successful in bringing back the matter through her own motion for a “comprehensive approach,” which includes the possibility of incentives for small businesses, collaborating with other cities to mitigate the pandemic and excluding small businesses from the city’s pandemic assistance program (loans) for willful violators of state and county health orders.

Acosta’s proposed approach could include the potential for administrative fines, citations and tying the municipal code to the health orders, according to Schumacher, although fines and citations were not specifically mentioned in the motion.

Acosta did not explain in detail what any other options may be considered, while Mayor Matt Hall was the lone no vote to her motion. No date has been set to discuss the new item.

Recall Schumacher
Protesters holding “Recall Schumacher” signs on Jan. 5 near the entrance of Carlsbad City Hall. Photo by Steve Puterski

Schumacher, who represents District 1, said she brought the item forward because the council had several 2-2 votes prior to Acosta taking her seat in December. Schumacher said the council was sending mixed messages to residents and staff, while also saying “this gives us the opportunity to better support our businesses” and address home gatherings.

“It was at that time we started to talk about how to protect our community health and safety,” Schumacher said, referring to the July and September meetings. “As residents kept reaching out, a significant amount from my district, about the non-compliance of public health orders, we consistently came to, as a four-member council, a split vote. This was really the time to bring it back and grapple with it as a full council.”

Prior to the meeting, at least 80 people protested at Carlsbad City Hall decrying more enforcement, such as administrative fines and citations, along with dozens of people holding signs to recall Schumacher from office.

Between 70 to 80 residents consisting of small business owners and employees spoke during the meeting, with about six people voicing support of the measure. A large majority of residents railed against the item, and Schumacher specifically, for politically motivated attacks when businesses and employees are struggling to meet their financial and other obligations due to the recent orders barring restaurants from outdoor dining.

Also, the city received hundreds of emails, most of which were in support of small businesses.

According to Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci, at least 28 small businesses have been sent cease-and-desist letters from San Diego County for violating health orders. Gallucci said nine cases have been submitted to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for further review or possible action.

“I like incentives, but the amount businesses need is far beyond our reach,” Hall said. “There are several health orders are in the courts. I think we’re going down a path with no scientific or factual basis.”

Crackheads Carlsbad
Customers dine outdoors at Mas Fina Cantina restaurant on Jan. 3 in Carlsbad Village. Photo by Steve Puterski

Many speakers, angry and frustrated with Schumacher, told personal stories of their employees struggling, while also demanding to see data showing a correlation of transmission of the virus and outdoor dining. However, some restaurants have been serving indoors as well, which led to those in favor of enhanced enforcement speaking out.

Speakers also passionately told Schumacher and the council most of the recent surges of the virus are due to home gatherings, expedited by the holiday season. They also pointed to how big box stores and grocery stores weren’t following capacity rules, along with calling Schumacher a bully, destroying an economic engine for the city and several people calling on her to donate her salary to help struggling businesses.

“I am not, per one of our councilmember’s quotes, one of a few selfish interests placing my community at significant risk by violating public health orders; nor am I exploiting unfair competitive advantages,” said Dede Rowlett, who manages Lola’s Deli, an iconic city business. “I’m a long-time resident, constituent, neighbor, friend and single mom doing her damndest to keep her small family business alive. And with that, 13 other staff members so they can feed and house their families.”

Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel said the region has taken a “very siloed” approach and said the issue shouldn’t be political or partisan. Additionally, she added more collaboration between mayors and other cities to mitigate the pandemic would be greater use of resources.

However, she cautioned against rogue actors which could lead to further issues or an inability to control further outbreaks of the virus.

Bhat-Patel, who holds a doctorate in public health, said she’s spoken with numerous experts who say unmasked individuals from indoor gatherings are the main source of spread. In regard to further action on required masks along Carlsbad Boulevard, Bhat-Patel was not in support because it would be too difficult for police to enforce such a policy.

“The way it’s been handled throughout the state and country, it’s been abysmal,” Bhat-Patel said. “A lot of this comes down to individual behavior. How do we support good actors during this time? This shouldn’t be partisan, and it should be about how we work together.”