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Manhattan Beach Businesses Rally To Re-Open; Council Backs Effort to Sway L.A. County

May 20, 2020 08:34AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Let us re-open now, or you may lose us, was the message from local Manhattan Beach business owners at a rally in front of City Hall on Tuesday.

In response, the Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday agreed to make a formal request of L.A. County officials to allow Manhattan Beach businesses to re-open faster than county guidelines. 

But that resolution alone was not enough to satisfy some business owners, who are calling on Manhattan Beach to declare itself a "sanctuary city for businesses" and allow businesses to re-open immediately, regardless of county or state restrictions.

Several local retail businesses have said they are within days of going under. They say they need the expected revenue from the upcoming, traditionally busy Memorial Day weekend in order to survive.

City Council members agreed to hold off on further decisions until their Thursday meeting, by which time the city expects to have both a response from L.A. County officials, and more clarity on what exceptions the state is currently allowing.

Council Opts To Go Through Formal Process

The City Council on Tuesday night voted 4-1 to hand-deliver the letter to county officials asking for an exception to countywide restrictions on when certain businesses can open.

State regulations in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic generally apply to counties as a whole, but appear to permit counties to appeal to the state on behalf of individual cities for such a targeted lifting of restrictions.

Council member Suzanne Hadley was the lone dissenting vote, on the grounds that she wanted the council to vote to allow businesses to open this coming weekend. 

Hadley said she wanted to push back against what she considered L.A. County officials' "misguided bullying."

"I’m going on record that a letter is not enough," said Hadley. "I think we owe our businesses a vote tonight on doing more than a letter."

But other council members called for going through official channels first.

"I don’t want to characterize the county as bullying us, because they don’t know that we’re having the conversation," said council member Steve Napolitano. "I don’t disagree with the motion, but I would ask that you hold it until Thursday."

"We’re going to do it the right way and the legal way," added Mayor Richard Montgomery.

Nevertheless, business owners said they felt that wasn't enough.

"The city of Atwater; they sent letter after letter that went unread. And that’s why they went forward and declared sanctuary. They did that because nothing else worked," Chandra Shaw, the owner of Trilogy Spa, told council members. "People want to work, they want to do it safely, they want to do it responsibly, they want to do it quickly before it’s too late."

Mike Zislis, the owner of Shade Hotel and several Manhattan Beach restaurants, said that there was no more time for letter writing campaigns. "I am begging you to let our business owners have a fair chance to survive against the big retailers," he told the council. "Please let us open, let us open tomorrow."

City, County, or State Authority?

While L.A. County as a whole is showing some signs of improvement, it still is the most heavily impacted county in California during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Manhattan Beach, however, has held relatively steady with only 74 confirmed cases and two deaths since the pandemic began.

Yet Manhattan Beach remains tied to Los Angeles County because the L.A. County Public Health Department serves as the health department for the city. As the state allows counties to proceed with phased re-openings, Manhattan Beach would be expected to be subject to countywide rules, unless an exception is granted. It is not yet clear how the county or state would react to a city or individual businesses that opened against public health orders.

Council member Nancy Hersman said, "As much as I want to see our businesses open and thriving and all, we do need to do this in the right way. If the governor says we have to wait, it is not for us to defy the governor’s orders. I would not vote for that. I took an oath of office to uphold the laws of California."

Additionally, council member Hildy Stern said that she didn't want the council to take action that could expose businesses to state or county penalties. "Let’s not expose the possibility that liquor licenses could be revoked, or that disaster relief funding gets pulled away, because they’re defying a state order - that’s far more egregious for our businesses," she said.

Noting the risk of such consequences, Zislis said, "I'll take that risk. It's not on you; it's on me."

Businesses in Manhattan Beach know what they need to do to keep customers safe, and they are prepared to do so, added local restaurateur Mike Simms, urging council members to take their own action. "Please do not kick this can to the county, do not kick this can to the state."

"The can is not in our court," replied Stern. "The can is in the county’s court."

Rally Draws A Crowd

Earlier in the day, a rally in front of City Hall drew a crowd of more than 100 local business owners and residents. Many carried signs calling for businesses to re-open; organizers handed out American flags for attendees to wave. 

These small business owners are in "dire circumstances," said organizer Joe Franklin.

Franklin said that if businesses were given a chance to re-open, they would rise to the occasion.

"They know what to do. These are business people," he said. "They know how to get things done. They know their businesses. They will get it done, and they will get it done right. If you layer requirement upon requirement - they’re going to meet them. Unshackle them - let them do their work."

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