California Gov. Gavin Newsom's maskless dinner with medical industry lobbyists and others at a Napa County restaurant where meals cost a minimum of $350 per head was just about the last straw for some beleaguered California small-business owners.
With their livelihoods on the line, a growing number of them are openly defying the latest orders to shut down as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in California — and pointing to Newsom's bad behavior.
"We are definitely not complying. We have enough information to make an educated decision: The data do not back another shutdown," said Miguel Aguilar, founder and owner of Self Made Training Facility, based in Temecula, California, which leases space to physical trainers and nutrition advisers and has 40 locations across 11 states, including 15 in California.
The news of Newsom's Nov. 6 dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville only strengthened Aguilar's resolve. "Yes, we all make mistakes, but his apology was pathetic," Aguilar said. "He told us he was outdoors, but then the photos surfaced. He can attend in-person gatherings, but we can't? There's absolutely no trust there."
New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have surged at an alarming rate in California, with a seven-day average of more than 11,500 cases Saturday, more than triple the number of a month earlier. Hospitalizations have doubled over the same period, according to the Los Angeles Times, part of a national trend that has pushed total COVID-19 infections in the U.S. above 12 million.
In most California counties, restaurants, fitness clubs, yoga studios, churches, movie theaters and museums that have already been through two previous shutdowns and reopenings since March are once again required to cease indoor operations — just as winter hits. Some are laying off workers for the third time this year.
Add to that the failure of Congress to pass another stimulus package and, in many cases, a preexisting mistrust of government mandates. It all amounts to more disgruntled entrepreneurs.
Larry McNamer, owner of Major's Diner in the tiny San Diego County community of Pine Valley, said he is continuing to serve people indoors, even though the county closed indoor dining on Nov. 14 in accordance with state regulations. He doesn't believe the government has the right to impose such an ordinance on him. And, he said, Newsom's dinner fiasco helped him make his decision to stay open.
"We're having to deal with all of the lying, the hypocrisy — you've got a governor that's running around ignoring his own mandates," McNamer said.
McNamer knows the pandemic is real, he said. He is seating only a quarter of his normal indoor capacity and has added distance between tables. But after closing the restaurant from March 15 to May 23, laying off half his employees and falling $200,000 behind on rent and other bills, McNamer isn't sure how much more his business can take.