Local chambers of commerce urge Newsom to rethink measures
Leaders of local chambers of commerce are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to reconsider lockdown measures as restrictions squelch business activity across Santa Barbara County.
Chamber members are calling on Gov. Newsom to divide the Southern California region into subregions and not “slump” Santa Barbara County in with Los Angeles County, Kristen Miller, CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, told the News-Press.
Recently, leaders of chambers in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, organized a petition to urge Gov. Newsom to place them in their own tri-county subregion. The petition garnered more than 5,400 signatures from residents and local business owners.
Gov. Newsom has not yet responded to the petition.
“Of course, we want to be safe, but the shutdown does not seem to be reducing the numbers at all, and what it is doing is causing undue harm to the local economy by people losing their jobs and businesses,” Ms. Miller said.
Chamber members across Santa Barbara County believe businesses can still operate safely despite a recent rise in COVID-19 numbers in the region. Chamber members have voiced support for safety measures such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Ms. Miller said that during the course of the pandemic, many businesses adopted the recommended five-step safety method for safe operations, which includes wearing masks, washing hands often, maintaining social distancing, having proper ventilation and installing plexiglass dividers.
With these safety measures in practice, Ms. Miller said the chamber has collected data over many months that shows businesses can operate safely during the pandemic.
“We feel a responsibility to represent the business community and all of the families that are related to that community,” Ms. Miller said. “We realize we run the risk of being accused of wanting to open business no matter what.”
She later added, “We want to be safe just like you, we want to protect anyone vulnerable just like you, and we feel like if given the chance, we can do it safely.”
The petition to the governor comes after a whirlwind end to 2020 for businesses in Santa Barbara County.
At the start of December 2020, Gov. Newsom announced strict stay-at-home orders across five regions, including the Southern California region in which Santa Barbara County is included. The mandate came as a result of limited Intensive Care Unit bed capacity in the region, prompting the closure of personal care services and gyms and limiting restaurants to take-out only.
This initial mandate was originally expected to last three weeks, but the order has been extended with no hint of an end date. Currently 90% of California is under a regional stay-at-home order, according to covid19.ca.gov.
“(Businesses) have seen a significant dip,” Ms. Miller said, “particularly having (the mandate) come at the holidays was heart-wrenching because people lost their jobs just three weeks before Christmas.”
For business owners in Santa Barbara who had previously been able to operate in the “red tier” of restrictions from September to November, the return to lockdown has caused further closures and job loss, Ms. Miller said.
After restaurants returned to take-out and delivery only and many indoor facilities shut down once more, the chamber became concerned the restrictions could actually do more harm.
“We have evidence that (open businesses and restaurants) are not contributing to the spread, and in fact, sending everyone back to take-out is encouraging large home gatherings, which is contributing to the spread,” Ms. Miller said.
She later added, “State orders are tone-deaf to the effects of the shutdown.”
Other chamber members across Santa Barbara County have shown staunch support for this movement, with a number of members participating in TV commercials urging Gov. Newsom to ease the current restrictions.
“The data and science do not support the current regulations,” Kathy Vreeland, Buellton Chamber of Commerce executive director, said in the commercial. “It’s time to take action.”
Santa Maria County Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Morris also participated in the TV ad, asking residents to call Gov. Newsom and state representatives to urge them to reopen. “Tell them it’s time to let businesses operate safely.”