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Supervisor Jim Desmond
Supervisor Jim Desmond, right, speaks at a press conference on Sept. 22 urging the state to allow the county local control and to open business safely. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Regional officials, business owners call for safe reopening

REGION — Relinquishing state control to local officials and applying science to allow small businesses to reopen at a greater scale was the primary message from County Supervisor Jim Desmond during Tuesday’s press conference in front of Draft Republic in Carlsbad.

Desmond, along with Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones and Oceanside Councilman Jack Feller, also requested the state allow schools to safely reopen by following county mandates and health orders with respect to COVID-19.

Additionally, Lesley Cohn, of the Cohn Restaurant Group and owner of Draft Republic, and Mike Morton Jr., chief executive officer of Brigantine Family Restaurants, spoke in support of allowing businesses to reopen.

Desmond held a press conference on Sept. 21 in front of the County Administration Building in downtown San Diego pushing the same message.

“We want the same opportunities that the big box stores have to safely operate,” Desmond said on Sept. 22. “It doesn’t matter where … he (Gov. Gavin Newsom) lands us, business cannot survive in the current tiers they’re in. There is no business plan for a gym at 10% capacity to be successful. The inconsistencies and frustration are astounding out there.”

Mayor Rebecca Jones
San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, right, speaks at a press conference on Sept. 22 urging the state to allow businesses and schools to open safely. Also pictured, from left, Lesley Cohn, of the Cohn Restaurant Group, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, Mike Morton Jr., chief executive officer of Brigantine Family Restaurants, Oceanside Councilman Jack Feller, Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner and. Photo by Steve Puterski

Desmond also took aim at the state’s new “adjusted” system to determine whether counties are in their appropriate tier. The formula, which Desmond said has not been made public, averages all counties’ cases and adjusts the numbers based on the number of tests administered by each county.

Desmond said it appears if a county meets a certain number of tests, their adjusted numbers will likely decrease. Jones agreed, saying jobs and livelihoods will be lost.

“There is no ability to get better than 50%,” she added.

Cohn, meanwhile, railed against the new tiered system instituted by Gov. Gavin Newsom several weeks ago. She said there is no “green” tier to allow businesses to fully open.

According to the framework, if the county reaches a level of less than 1 case per 100,000 most businesses could stay open with modifications or at a maximum level of 50% capacity. Cohn said this model is unsustainable, noting her group had to lay off 1,800 employees but has been able to re-hire 1,200 of those positions.

She said about 40% of restaurants nationwide will fail but said there are examples the county can follow to ensure safety. Additionally, Morton said the county must focus on the positive test rate, hospitalizations, protective personal equipment, masks, social distancing and more.

He added California is the only state “this restrictive,” saying only two states have a 25% capacity limit.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say the government mandates aren’t hurting the economy and people aren’t willing to go out,” Morton said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no shortage of demand. It allows us to employ less people because of capacity.”

Meanwhile, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher also held a press conference on Sept. 21 and said Desmond and Supervisor Kristin Gaspar are inciting a fight between the government and small business.

He said what is being sold to business owners is not the solution and will make it worse.

“They are exploiting the pain and suffering that small businesses are going through as a result of a global pandemic as a wedge for political gain,” he said. “The only responsible path out of this is to slow the spread, open safely and responsibly.”

Regardless, Jones, Desmond and Wagner all said businesses should be treated equally and fairly, noting big box stores like Walmart, Target and others are open. Jones said allowing more local control is a more suitable option as the leaders in North County and San Diego County have more insight into their respective areas than the governor.

“We’ve lost sight of the original goals,” Desmond said. “We are still in the single-digit percentages of coronavirus patients in hospitals. It’s about 7% of the people in hospitals are there for coronavirus.”