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Vigilucci's Carlsbad Village
Diners at Vigilucci’s Cucina on Dec. 11 in Carlsbad Village. Over the weekend, hundreds of residents came out to support local restaurants and retailers protesting the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Small businesses, restaurants protest health orders

CARLSBAD — For at least 150 businesses in the cities of Carlsbad and Oceanside, staying open in defiance of the state’s regional stay-at-home order is a matter of survival during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting this past Friday, North County business owners launched what local employment attorney Michael Curran termed “a peaceful protest,” as numerous restaurants resumed outdoor dining options — and even some indoor dining — despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s health orders on Dec. 6 restricting such practices.

Curran is participating in the protest by working pro-bono for a number of business owners, providing legal advice and other services from his Encinitas firm, Curran & Curran Law.

“The First Amendment of the United States Constitution doesn’t say how we can protest, it’s pretty broad,” Curran said. “So, why don’t they stay open as part of a constitutionally protected peaceful protest? We’ve seen it up and down the state where people have said, ‘I’ve had it.’ If they don’t do it now, they won’t be back in business.”

Last week, word of the protest spread on social media, garnering a huge response over the weekend as hundreds of North County residents made reservations and dined at restaurants, according to various news and social media reports.

Oak + Elixir
Diners flocked to Carlsbad Village on Dec. 11 to support restaurants and small businesses, despite health orders regulating capacity and outdoor dining. Photo by Steve Puterski

In Carlsbad Village, businesses also received a much-needed financial boost from customers willing to brave the pandemic to patronize local establishments.

For Annie Rammel, owner of Oak + Elixir in Carlsbad Village, the choice was simple. Rammel said if she didn’t open her patio for outdoor business, she would be permanently closed in a few months.

And her decision to remain open was met with a level of success. Prior to making her decision public, Rammel booked 90 guest reservations for Dec. 11 at Oak + Elixir, which went on to experience a banner weekend with “nonstop” local support.

Rammel said part of the reason for her decision is due to the high cost of delivery services, which has depleted the restaurant’s already thin profit margins. But more importantly, she is fighting for the livelihoods of her employees, who need money for rent, utilities and other expenses.

“It’s completely devastating,” Rammel said. “My staff is part of my family. I want to protect them and protect them to pay their bills. I feel responsible for making sure they have a paycheck. It’s part of my job and also the government, and they’re not doing that.”

Rammel’s establishment was subject to some controversy earlier this year after paying the City of Carlsbad  $5,500 for an emergency outdoor dining permit. The city normally charges $381 for a sidewalk permit.

The city’s hefty fee came in addition to nearly $7,000  Rammel spent to build an outdoor patio alongside several parking spaces on State Street. However, the city later refunded money to those businesses who had to set up outdoor accommodations.

Since the stay-at-home order, Carlsbad police have patrolled the area and distributed educational flyers. But San Diego County has issued dozens of cease-and-desist letters, although its website had not been updated as of Dec. 14 to show if any letters had been issued over the weekend.

Resident Heather Ambrose said she was surprised at the number of people who came out to support local restaurants. While Ambrose said it would be sad for these businesses to go out of business, there is a “quiet” enthusiasm from those who want to show support.

In Southern California, resistance to the governor’s public health guidelines received a boost after a Los Angeles judge ruled Newsom’s most recent ban on outdoor dining was “arbitrary.”

The judge said L.A. County did not “offer evidence that outdoor dining presented a greater risk of spreading the virus,” according to KTLA and the Associated Press. The local order remains in place.

Curran said the judge’s ruling means the order is not constitutional, but further litigation remains likely.

Newsom has changed the reporting requirements several times, including the latest which centers on regions and the percentage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds available.