Anger, sadness, and lots of financial pain and resentment are going around in San Francisco and several neighboring counties after new health orders that took effect Sunday night. After several months of doing brisk business with outdoor dining, thousands of Bay Area restaurants are being forced to lay off staff and revert back to takeout only — after building out parklets at great expense in some cases — and many owners are speaking out to the media.
"Since the announcement, everybody has basically been crying, every single day," says Curio Bar owner Patricia Goms, speaking to the Examiner. "I’ve been crying for four days straight." Goms said she had to lay off about 50 staffers with no sign of when she'll be able to restart outdoor service.
Goms is referring to last Friday's announcement by Mayor London Breed and Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax that San Francisco and five other local counties had opted to join early in the state's mandate for "Purple" tier counties with dwindling ICU capacities. Even though most of the Bay Area was not expected to hit the state's 15% availability threshold for intensive-care beds for at least another week or two, Breed said that waiting would only make the situation worse.
On Monday, San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow struck a different tone in explaining why he would not be joining in the preemptive order. Morrow cited a lack of evidence that these lockdowns are changing people's overall behavior, and he said the economic pain caused by these orders could lead to preventable deaths of other kinds, such as from suicides.
"What I believed back in May, and what I believe now, is the power and authority to control this pandemic lies primarily in your hands, not mine," he wrote.
Mission Local chimed in today to call the new order "arbitrary and regressive" and not based on data. And restaurateurs in Marin County are especially frustrated given that county's "Red" tier status, and yet it is joining with SF and others in locking down as of Tuesday. "I don't understand the numbers," said Sola salon manager Kellie Little to ABC 7. "We have not had a lot of cases. We are being shut down, for what?"
Over in the East Bay, as KPIX reports, a group of restaurant owners is organizing a rebellion of a sort, after making investments in outdoor dining setups. "Protesting is allowed. So there’s a thought amongst these restaurants that we might need to protest every day, lunch time and dinner time on our patios, by serving the community," says Todd Utikal of Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Pleasanton.
It's unclear whether such a protest will happen.
Central to business owners' frustrations is the growing awareness that targeting specific businesses as high risk, like outdoor dining or small fitness studios, may not be based on any specific data — though health officials have repeatedly said that their main goal as cases surge is just to get people to stay home.
"Small businesses are getting crushed," says Dave Karraker, spokesperson for the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, which over the summer lobbied to get small fitness studios reopened. "Show us the science that outdoor dining is spreading Coronavirus or tell us how we can make it safe. Do the work City of San Francisco. Don’t hide behind blanket health orders."
While the winter surge itself has been predicted throughout much of this year, it had seemed in mid-October like San Francisco had perhaps averted disaster already and was on a path to economic and pandemic recovery.
And over 1,300 businesses around San Francisco applied for Shared Spaces permits and invested sometimes thousands of dollars in parklets that will now not be generating any revenue until early January at the earliest.
"There is so much pain and suffering that I just don’t know if we’re truly making the overall right choice right now," says Laurie Thomas, herself a restaurant owner and executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, speaking to the Ex. She says she had to lay off 52 people, and like many in the industry she wants to stem the spread of the virus but she is not sure that stopping outdoor dining is the best way.
Photo: Jay Barmann/SFist