County asks state for local control to reopening gyms, hotels, churches and more

San Diego County Administration Building

San Diego County will ask the state for more local control in reopening as the majority of the board of supervisors backed Supervisor Jim Desmond’s push for the immediate re-opening of gyms, hotels, nail salons. wineries and breweries, churches, theme parks, youth sports, charter/fishing boats, museums and pools.

Desmond also called for coastal cities to consider opening beach parking lots in a safe manner as soon as possible.

“My goal has always been to boost the economy by opening up businesses, utilizing the health officers’ safety guidelines and protecting the most vulnerable,” Desmond said at the board’s June 2 virtual meeting. “We need to empower the people of San Diego County to get back to work.”

In making his request, Desmond cited that the county’s COVID-19 testing has increased and the overall percentage of those testing positive has gone down, hospital bed and ICU bed capacity remain stable and that when the county opened up retail shops, restaurants, parks and beaches their case numbers did not go up. He said that the county is facing over 30% unemployment, the region’s hospitality industry expects 50% job loss and many local restaurants and businesses have been forced to close their doors for good.

“We now have, due to the horrific and preventable death of George Floyd, added tensions and anxieties in our country on top of the virus,” Desmond said. “The quicker we heal, learn from our errors and return to work, the better.”

District 3 Supervisor Kristin Gaspar voted in favor of the county taking over the guidance of the 10 sectors in Desmond’s plan and moving forward with re-opening the economy.

“We were leaders in our response to the pandemic, we will continue to be leaders as we safely guide out of this pandemic,” Gaspar said. “There are 500,000 San Diegans without a job and 600,000 that have no idea where their next meal is coming from. Now it’s a real struggle as people figure out how to keep a roof over their heads, how to feed their kids and we need to make smart decisions here on the local level.”

District 4 Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was the sole vote in opposition.

Fletcher said while he believes that the county is ready to re-open gyms and outdoor activities, he could not support the full request as does not believe they are ready to move forward with opening up “higher risk” entities such as churches at full capacity and theme parks.

“We’re in a good position because of the way we’ve gone about the reopening, not in spite of it,” Fletcher said. “I believe we should stay the course in opening in a safe, responsible and systematic way. I look forward to additional progress in the coming days and weeks but do not support this reckless approach.”

At the meeting, the supervisors heard lots of public comment in support of Desmond’s request, from lap pool swimmers and sport-fisherman to many asking for hotels to re-open for leisure travelers. Speakers asked to be allowed to both sit at and park at the beach and for the state to trust that San Diego citizens and businesses will act responsibly.

Rancho Santa Fe resident Jamie O’Grady, who owns J Public Relations, said the majority of her business comes from the hospitality industry and, as a result, her business has been devastated and she has had to furlough close to half of her staff. She asked that hotels be allowed to open for leisure guests, noting that they have been operating by safely housing essential workers with zero outbreaks.

“Please allow small businesses like mine to prosper again,” O’Grady said. “We want to get our employees back to work and we need to to stay solvent.”

As part of his comments in support of Desmond’s plan, Rancho Santa Fe School District board member Jee Manghani also asked the county to loosen restrictions on graduation ceremonies, allowing schools to plan for celebrations in late June or July instead of video messages and drive-through diploma distributions.

“Local school boards and superintendents should be entrusted with handling these ceremonies with care, parents should be trusted with the decision to attend or skip the ceremony,” Manghani said. “We can do this safely and honor our kids who have worked hard to earn their graduation.”