Restaurants, gyms, churches to reopen at limited capacity

A resident addresses the Riverside County Board of Supervisors during today's meeting. By Doug Spoon, Editor Riverside County moved...

A resident addresses the Riverside County Board of Supervisors during today's meeting.

By Doug Spoon, Editor

Riverside County moved into the less restrictive red tier in the state’s reopening format today, allowing most businesses to reopen for indoor services at limited capacity.

In moving from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s most restrictive purple tier to the red tier, the following steps forward may be made by businesses immediately:

-- Retail stores and shopping centers may reopen at 50 percent capacity.

-- Restaurants may reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity or 100 customers, whichever is less.

-- Churches, movie theaters and museums may reopen for indoor service at 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.

-- Gyms and fitness centers may reopen for indoor business at 10 percent capacity.

-- Personal care services such as nail salons may reopen with modifications.

Bars where no food is served remain closed. State guidelines continue to recommend the use of masks and social distancing. The County was approved to move to the red tier by meeting the state’s criteria (maintaining an adjusted COVID-19 case rate of 7.0 or less and a positivity rate of 8 percent or less for the last two weeks).

By virtue of the County’s move into the red tier, schools are allowed to reopen for in-person learning in two weeks without a waiver if COVID-19 numbers remain under the threshold. The decision whether to do so, how quickly and in what form, must be made by the individual school districts.

Meanwhile, a proposal by County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt to put the reopening plan totally under the County’s control was pushed two weeks into the future by the Board of Supervisors today. After hearing public testimony from more than 70 individuals – all but two in favor of reopening the County 100 percent – a motion by Hewitt was amended to delay the decision until Oct. 6.

The proposal by Hewitt called for almost the same first phase of immediate reopening business as was announced today in the state-allowed move to the red tier. Beyond that, however, his plan would guarantee that the County would move into a less restrictive phase roughly every three weeks – with or without state approval.

That is a plan that would be seen as a statement of defiance against the governor’s mandates. Some Supervisors today questioned whether such a move was worth the risk of losing state funding.

Some had characterized Hewitt’s proposal as an immediate full reopening of the economy. That was never the case. In fact, had Hewitt’s plan been adopted today, gyms and fitness centers would not have been allowed to open at all for indoor services, as opposed to the 10 percent occupancy allowed in the red tier.

The main concern was the possibility of penalties imposed by the state if Riverside County took control of its own destiny from this point forward. That discussion intensified when County CEO George Ferguson told Supervisors his research indicated the state could possibly withhold as much as $656 million, including $419 million in Department of Social Services funding and $95 million from the Riverside University Health System.

“This is what could be at risk if the state wants to play hardball,” Johnson said.

Hewitt’s response was immediate.

“How dare you, George,” said Hewitt (right). “How dare you even suggest those numbers. “If you think the government has anything close to a legal right to do that … We’re going to lose a whole lot of revenue on an economy that is crushed if we don’t do something.”

Supervisor Karen Spiegel said she feared for small businesses if the County took the drastic step of moving away from the state’s reopening plan.

“I want everyone working,” she said. “We all do. But if we do this, a business opens and does something wrong, we can’t protect them from losing their business license. I think we need to go through this [proposal] more carefully. I’m in favor of continuing this item. In the meantime, nothing changes [from the red tier status] in the next two weeks."

After Hewitt received a second to his motion from Supervisor Kevin Jeffries suggesting a delay of the matter until Oct. 6, the motion passed, 3-2. Supervisors V. Manuel Perez and Chuck Washington voted no.

In the hours before the vote, Supervisors heard passionate pleas from residents and business owners demanding an immediate reopening. One of the speakers was Bob Karwin, a Menifee resident, attorney and candidate for Menifee City Council.

“The state has gotten this all wrong,” Karwin said. “We’ve all become exhausted by the moving target they present to us.”

Another speaker was Kira Boranian, the hair salon owner in Corona who was the first to defy state orders by reopening her shop in late April, also addressed the board.

“I reopened my salon because I was dying,” she said. “And I had to tell 26 stylists they would have no income. This has ruined small business. I’ve been fighting this since day one. Listen to common sense.”

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