City says it will not enforce stay-at-home orders
The Solvang City Council passed a motion this week stating the city will not actively enforce county and state stay-at-home orders.
The city requested that Santa Barbara County prioritize education and not enforce orders within city limits, which was a motion by Solvang Mayor Ryan Toussaint.
The motion passed unanimously with a 5-0 vote at Monday’s council meeting.
The council also strongly backed the creation of a new Central Coast Region, which would consist of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. The region would separate the area from more severe Intensive Care Unit numbers in Los Angeles County and elsewhere.
The mayor and council directed city staff to immediately pursue maintaining the status quo of safe, open outdoor dining and other current business practices.
Solvang will create an ad hoc committee to work with City Manager Xenia Bradford, other state and local officials and organizations to maintain the current economy, with Mayor Toussaint and City Council member Jim Thomas as likely appointees to the committee.
Authorization was granted for Ms. Bradford to immediately adjust the budget by $10,000 to cover extra expenses related to these actions and for maintaining public safety.
The mayor and council sent a letter Monday to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. In the letter, Mayor Toussaint wrote, “Significant concerns about the latest round of business shutdowns were expressed by residents, business representatives and our council. The community of Solvang has done a great job at being mindful, safe and responsible while keeping our local economy going during these challenging times. The current order by the state is ill-conceived, unnecessary and quite frankly negligent when it comes to protecting our community in a safe, balanced and sane manner.”
The mayor added, “Solvang is a charter city, with a very active community base and a nimble and responsive city government led by a dedicated city council and staff. The city is also unique in that nearly all businesses are small and locally-owned, and with a great dependence on tourism. Even before the March 19 Executive Orders, the city was active in efforts to first contain the potential spread of COVID, then to mitigate the effects on the community, while constantly planning for economic recovery.”
However, with all that said, the motion and letter do not mean Solvang can actually continue operations without consequence. Individual municipalities don’t have the ability to override the state and county orders, according to County Deputy District Attorney John Savrnoch.
“If the city determines they’re not going to use their assets to enforce the orders, that’s one thing,” he told the News-Press. “Particularly, with a smaller city, it doesn’t necessarily change anything. A city like Solvang wouldn’t have the resources to do a significant amount of education or enforcement anyway.”
Mr. Savrnoch said that any restaurants that stay open or open back up “do so at their own peril.”
“At any point in time, the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) could come into Solvang and do a sweep one night where they visit restaurants … and see a licensed entity serving customers on premise and it’s a very simple violation,” he said. “It would be very easy, particularly in the context of restaurants, for the state to come in and issue a number of violations, which would functionally close a lot of businesses if they did that.”
While Mr. Pavrnoch referred to Solvang’s letter and motion as “a statement by the city that they want to protect their retailers, their restaurants and their tasting rooms,” it won’t do much, and he said he could see more municipalities joining the movement.
“We have been under some form of restriction now for coming up on nine months, which is pretty close to a year,” he said. “You have people who are trying to save their businesses, feed their employees and just get on with their life.
“It’s understandable that this movement would be coming, but on the flip side of that, we have the highest rates of infection and highest rates of deaths we’ve had from this pandemic since it started. Those two factors are meeting and they’re coming into play at the same time.”
In a “Message from the Mayor” sent to Solvang businesses on Wednesday, obtained by the News-Press, the city announced that while “we cannot overrule the governor or the county,” the city has a plan to repurpose outdoor patio spaces for public use during the lockdown.
“The thought is that businesses can provide take-out food, and diners can then utilize these appropriate, safe and convenient spaces rather than overwhelming the city park benches, curbs, walls or other less appropriate spaces,” the letter reads. “While we do not yet have feedback from the county or state regulators on this plan, and can make no guarantees to businesses as to how those other agencies will respond, we think it would be irresponsible to leave this pending problem without city response and public protections.
“It would similarly be a terrible waste of all of your substantial efforts and investment to meet the recommendation of public health experts in setting up those outdoor spaces.”
The city drafted a short-term lease agreement to businesses with appropriate outdoor spaces, and the lease is terminable by either party at any time if circumstances change. A similar arrangement may be provided to businesses with appropriate street furniture under city encroachment permits such as the closure area of Copenhagen Drive.
Regarding opening against state and county orders, the letter read, “The city has reached out to, and will continue to try to work with, the County Sheriff’s Office, health department and ABC. So far, they have not made any commitments to work with the city’s request for deferred enforcement, but the city is continuing those conversations and hopes that along with the county’s request to the state, some loosening may be possible.”
The letter continued, “However, businesses regulated by the County Health Department or ABC do run the risk of action by such regulators. You must accordingly make your own decisions for your businesses and families. The city will help to the extent we can, but we are all still subject to state regulation and interpretation.”
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom that Santa Barbara County be removed from the Southern California Region and considered part of a Central Coast Region.
Neither Santa Barbara nor Ventura nor San Luis Obispo County have reached less than 15% ICU capacity. In fact, Santa Barbara County currently has 51% of ICU beds available.
Hard-hit counties like Los Angeles County drag down the region’s total ICU capacity, and board members argued that Santa Barbara County doesn’t deserve to be dragged down by those counties.
Solvang city leaders asked that Santa Barbara County be removed from “yet another California ‘one size fits all’ mistake, which will destroy our community,” according to the letter.