REGION — North County San Diego’s two top elected officials are calling for a rapid reopening of businesses shuttered since late March as part of statewide stay-at-home orders intended to slow the spread of coronavirus.
County supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar penned a letter on May 8 to Gov. Gavin Newsom arguing for more flexibility in deciding how and when to allow businesses to resume normal activity.
In a widely circulated Facebook video this week, Desmond goes further, saying the continued shutdown benefits national retailers at the expense of small businesses.
“The governor has shuttered the people’s businesses while corporations — large big box stores — thrive. You can get baked goods at Costco but not at your local bakery. You can buy clothing at Wal-Mart but not at a clothing store. We can safely get thousands of people a day through grocery stores, but not a furniture store, not an electronics store, nor a car dealership can not be fully open for business,” Desmond said.
Desmond and Gaspar are among a chorus of local political and business leaders who have called for a more rapid loosening of mandatory business closures in increasingly strident terms.
Last week, Oceanside city councilman Chris Rodriguez made headlines by pubically urging business owners to defy stay-at-home orders and reopen.
Amid the growing clamor across the state, Newsom on May 12 said restaurants can begin serving dine-in customers again if they develop a written coronavirus prevention plan for sanitation and employee training as can non-essential manufacturing facilities.
Retail stores, including shopping malls and strip centers, will be allowed to make curbside sales.
Entertainment companies are also not among businesses that are allowed to reopen yet, further impacting North County where three Indian casinos are among the region’s major employers (Valley View Casino in Valley Center said it would reopen anyway on May 22, claiming the authority to do so as a sovereign tribal nation).
Wineries and craft breweries can serve food to customers under the modified restaurant rules but can only sell alcohol alongside meals.
As of May 12, 5,278 people in San Diego County have tested positive for coronavirus, including 559 in North County cities. Of those confirmed cases, 1,019 were hospitalized and 316 required intensive care, according to the county health department.
Although the stay-at-home orders are credited with helping to prevent the viruses spread — no more than 233 new cases in a county of 3.3 million people have been recorded during any two-day period — residents have chafed under the restrictions.
Hundreds of people attended protests in Encinitas and Oceanside in recent weeks demanding that officials reopen businesses and other public spaces.
“We can get our economy going and keep our county and our residents safe,” said Desmond, a former San Marcos mayor whose district includes Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, San Marcos and large rural swaths of East County.
In a media interview last week, Gaspar said Newsom should give counties and cities the authority to determine how and when businesses reopen.
“Sacramento can’t possibly know what’s best for San Diego! Here we have talented clinical leadership, collaborative hospital partners, responsible business owners, engaged residents, and a strong faith-based community ready to guide San Diego out of the crisis if only Sacramento would get out of the way,” said Gaspar, a former Encinitas mayor who represents Encinitas, Escondido, Solana Beach, Del Mar and a northern chunk of the city of San Diego on the county’s Board of Supervisors.
Since the pandemic began on March 7, 430,000 people in San Diego County lost their jobs as of May 2, according to estimates compiled by Thousands Oaks-based research group Applied Geographic Solutions Inc.
During that period, the county’s unemployment rate increased from 3.3 percent to a projected 28.7 percent of the county’s labor force.
In North County, the unemployment rates trend slightly higher than the county as a whole, ranging from 30 percent in northeastern Carlsbad’s 92010 zip code to 32.5 percent in southern Oceanside’s 92054 zip code.