Cynthia Hren: Open indoor dining |

Cynthia Hren: Open indoor dining

Many of our local restaurants have been targets of traumatic abuse and excessive fines for the “crime” of wanting to serve their customers in the safety and comfort of an air-conditioned indoor environment during this unprecedented heat wave and unhealthy smoky air.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered that restaurants can only serve people outdoors or by take-out, among other rules.

Nevada County has a mere fraction of the state average statistics for COVID cases and deaths. While acknowledging this virus is seriously real for those who are vulnerable, and any death is tragic, our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms are infringed when healthy people are not allowed to make their own choices. Restaurants do not force persons at risk to dine, that is a personal decision. No COVID cases have been traced to restaurants. As of this writing, Sept. 1, Nevada County is far below an emergency state, and far below the state average:

Nevada County cases = 449 per 100K; (vs. CA=1,792)

Nevada County deaths = 5 per 100K; (vs. CA=33)

A new state plan consisting of rating counties into four tiers of risk has been implemented. However, the plan is complicated and may only allow restaurants to utilize one-fourth of their indoor seating. That is not sufficient to keep the restaurants operating.

After speaking to several restaurant owners, they all expressed deep concern about surviving when they are forced to close due to the winter wind and rains that will return soon. One owner asked: “Will Grass Valley turn into a ghost town? We will not survive another shutdown; we barely survived the last one.” Their expenses will not end when they must stop serving outside; rent or mortgages and utilities still must be paid. If forced to close, they will have to let employees go, who will seek employment elsewhere. Another café owner says: “It’s difficult to find good cooks and servers and takes time and money to train them. Restaurants are complementary to other businesses in town, and if they are shuttered, tourism will diminish and everyone suffers,” a domino effect that affects tax revenue, unemployment, and quality of life in our community.

The worst policy is encouraging the public to “keep an eye on your neighbor,” which turns people into snitches. This is pure fascism. “It stifles the dignity of our society when we are treated like an enemy and expected to police each other. It’s a dangerous communist protocol.” Says another café owner, “This is the scariest feeling, it’s what happened in Communist Russia when the population lived with authoritarian judgement and persecution. This is what I came to the U.S. to get away from.”

Since this ordinance is driven by complaint, people are encouraged by some supervisors and the county health officer to look for anything to complain about and submit to the county administration. A Nevada County official then visits the subjected restaurant to inspect and educate the owners, if not in full compliance with the orders, they can be penalized with abusive fines, up to $10,000/per day.

Restaurants have been targets of hateful harassment, intimidation, vandalism, and destruction of their private property. They have received personal threats by phone, social media and attacks on their businesses by uninformed people. Slurs such as: “You’re killing people,” “You’re evil”, and “I hope you go out of business”, and other unprintable words. It certainly is not a business-friendly environment, and a big deterrent to anyone thinking of starting or keeping a business here. Yet, restaurateurs remain strong and are working hard to serve their customers despite the animosity.

Our entire community will suffer this winter and beyond if restaurants are forced to close in inclement weather. Where will you go when you want to meet a friend for lunch, or celebrate a special occasion with a loved one? Other shops and businesses will follow suit if there is no restaurant destination to support them. Some restaurants have installed advanced air filtration systems, and all are adamant about following and exceeding the guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing.

“Public” supervisor meetings at the Rood Center have been held behind closed doors with the doors outside the building locked to the public. Why are they hiding from businesses and Nevada County citizens? Healthy people are being treated like enemy biohazards. Let our county leaders know they must listen to our businesses, hear citizen input and open our restaurants to indoor dining now.

Our quality of life in Nevada County and the future viability of our county depends upon it.

Cynthia Hren lives in Nevada City.

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