Civil Disobedience in CA growing alongside case numbers

Californians don’t need education, we need fact based restrictions, and real consequences

I’ve never parked in a handicap parking spot. I don’t drive in the HOV lane without the required number of passengers or a valid and up to date permit. I’ve wanted to. And it’s that selfish desire that rages in me whenever I sit in traffic, watching ancient Tacomas with a single bored driver cruise by me as I sit, one lane over, stuck in traffic. Or watching a clearly abled driver slide out of their non-handicap marked BMW and step inside the store while I continue to circle the lot.

My family and I live in Santa Clara County. And we’ve been locked down for going on 10 months. 10 months of posting zoom links to VC Birthdays right beneath news articles about mask-less parties that the Governor attended. Holiday contact with Grandma on the opposite sides of house windows, while 50% of this country boarded planes and celebrated in person. My kids have had only a handful of play dates (outside, masked, socially distanced) as they are awkward, and logistically challenging. And my wife and I have respected every odd State, County, City, and Business restriction that we’ve encountered, both in spirit and in letter.

It’s been crushing us, and many like us. We understand the purpose is to save lives, but oddly, as the rules get stricter, the body count climbs higher.

The reason for this is actually quite simple: As the pressure from stricter rules increases, the enforcement of those rules has gone down. The vacuum of disobedience becomes harder to resist. Further exaggerating this effect, when folks “give up” on following the rules, it’s often all of them or at least more than they would if the rules were reasonable. And it’s not just those who disagreed from the beginning because of “politics”.

On Halloween, masks on my kids, we wandered through our suburb in Sunnyvale, the porch lights were all out, some had placed candy at the end of the driveway; but many doors were open, the house lights and stereos were blasting as the house parties continued, There were no fines for the parties.

2 weeks later, COVID cases were through the roof. California tightened down on their existing ineffective stay at home order, adding a curfew, while leaders weakened even the advisory statement by ignoring it entirely. My family, who hadn’t formed a “bubble” or participated in any holiday event since the quarantine began had been carefully planning a drive with an RV (planes would be too risky) to bubble Thanksgiving with a single family for a week who has been similarly in full lockdown mode. This new restriction included a change to inter-state travel that cancelled those plans. So instead, we RV’d just our family to a campground 30 miles away and cooked our turkey there. Watching from our little folding table however you could see all of the multi-household families enjoying their big thanksgiving traditions as usual. 50% of California boarded a plane, many to multi-family reunions in states where COVID rates were higher, to return, without quarantine to their communities in CA. So far, for violation of the new order, there has been only a single arrest.

2 weeks later, the parties and travel at Thanksgiving had risen our COVID cases in the state to a new record, and ICU’s were beginning to fill up and the California Health Department once again, add more restrictions to their ineffective and increasingly ignored order with a new “Regional Stay at Home Order”, tied to Hospital ICU capacity. My county (Santa Clara) and a number of bay counties, eagerly adopted the order early. The order closed hotels, and outdoor / indoor dining. And further restricted travel to < 150 miles.

My family is privileged to have an investment property in South Lake Tahoe. Because of all the cancellations this year this investment has been a burden on our finances (Hungry mortgage, months of no bookings) we had planned Christmas at home so that we could make the holiday income from Tahoe, renting exclusively to single household families who were coming from in state. This order closed outdoor dining (the only way many restaurants were able to keep in business), and stopped vacation rentals and hotel bookings. So, we cancelled $15,000 worth of Christmas and new years bookings, and tried to make the best of it, packing the family in the car and driving up to use the house. Passing down the main street in Placerville to pay at the pump for some gas, we could see that not only was street dining still happening, but you could clearly see packed restaurants full of holiday diners through the frost glazed windows, despite the takeout only order. In Tahoe, the parking lots for some hotels were packed with cars. So far, there have been 0 fines for hotels accepting bookings or violating this order.

And while some bars closed, and some restaurants went back to take out only, many businesses just said “fuck it” and re-opened. Picking up my take out order at “The Brewery”, I couldn’t help but notice multiple patrons drinking at the bar. Asking “oh, you guys are open”, I got a somewhat defensive explanation that the rules passed are unenforceable since “Newsom is going to be recalled”, and that they’ve been operating this way for months. The next day, I picked up my waffles from Heidi’s, one of our favorite breakfast plays that had been faithfully following the restrictions despite it’s obvious impact on their business and I was disappointed to see them seating indoors. It’s a small space, but the booths are all separated by walls and the staff was all masked and sanitizing. Still, I wrote a disappointed review on Yelp, and got a response from the owner:

Thank you for the kind comments on our food and employees. We value our employees a great deal and that is one of the reasons we have begun a course of responsible civil disobedience. With all due respect to your position, as a local small business, we have responsibilities to our employees, their families, our guests and the community we live in and support with the taxes we collect.

From March through December we have abided by all directives promulgated from our elected and appointed politicians and regulators. These guidelines resulted in a 40% reduction in sales. With only take out sales in December, as of the 23rd we were down 87% in sales with a corresponding food, labor, supplies and overhead cost of 140% of those sales. This trend cannot continue for an indefinite amount of time as our business will cease to exist.

Regarding the safety of our guests, we are operating responsibly with the guidelines in existence in early November while in the orange category. Masks are mandated for guests while not seated. Employees are in masks. No more than 50% capacity of guests. Minimum 6 foot spacing, more frequent sanitizing and disinfecting is a priority. We are encouraging take out. We have added another phone line to accommodate those requests. We have collaborated with Door Dash for deliveries to those who must or choose to quarantine.

Regarding the safety of our employees, all employees are being scheduled voluntarily. Any employee not comfortable with working is not scheduled. Some are able to survive on unemployment. Three have left us for more consistent work in retail or essential medical field employment. All scheduled employees are checked daily for symptoms. Any symptomatic employee is required to be tested and not allowed to return until they are cleared.

The vast majority of our verbal and guest comment card responses have been very positive of our recent service upgrades. I look forward to you visiting again when you are more comfortable with indoor dining. Until then our take out option will be there for you.

It’s a tough position to be in. And each new restriction, like on my family, tightens the screws. And without any consequence, disobedience becomes more and more tempting. Without support, eventually it becomes the only option. MacDuffs Pub, one of the reasons we chose to invest in South Lake (fine food, great people) is still following all the rules while nearby disobedient taverns pick up their lost customers. They closed their patio to outdoor dining, despite having recently spent a good deal of money renovating it for safe COVID winter use. Who knows how long they’ll be able to stay afloat before having to break the rules or shutter. Seeing this safe compromise go to waste fills me with rage, knowing that it could mean another part of the culture of the places I’ve lived for years will be gone when we come out the other side of this shit tunnel.

Closed for the Obedient

So, Christmas the hotels were open, the diners in restaurants, and on new years, you could hear the house parties and LA was having bar crawls. No fines. No penalties.

Parties for the Disobedient

And here we come, 2 weeks or so after Christmas and New years. Again, COVID continues to rise. And again, the administration seems to think that doubling down on toothless restrictions is going to fix the problem. Passing a travel advisory, now 120 miles (like the distance was the problem) and again, using soft language like “Californians should avoid” and “are strongly discouraged”. I think 3 failed orders in a row should have made it clear that the problem is NOT that the restrictions on those who follow rules aren’t yet tight enough, it’s that the restrictions aren’t being enforced.

Californians don’t need education, they need consequences

Now is the chance. The rules are both too strict and not strict enough. We need to pass a new order. One that acknowledges the needs of businesses to run, and people to see each other. A compromise between what people are doing right now anyway, and what is safe. One that acknowledges what we have learned in the last 10 months about how this virus spreads (airborne more than surface, indoor way more than outdoor, masks work, distance works).

  1. Re-Open outdoor dining, Close indoor dining / bars
  2. Allow hotels, fines and business license revocation if those hotels open public spaces like hot tubs or pools
  3. Remove curfew, fines for parties

And most importantly, actually enforce! If it can’t be enforced, don’t make it law or you just encourage the lawless. In the meantime, we’ll keep zipping up the body bags and putting up the bankruptcy tags.

Kevin Lohman, Software Engineer, Father, Story Teller, and former US Navy Sailor (who never set foot on a ship)

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