Angry California restaurant owner confronts inspectors: Why are you fining me for trying to keep my business open?

Via the Daily Caller, which happened to be on the scene interviewing business owner Anton Van Happen when two California health inspectors showed up. That sounds like an incredible coincidence but it isn’t. He’s been trying to organize a little commercial rebellion against the new regional stay-at-home order, which I assume is why the Caller — and the inspectors — wanted to talk to him. From a KEYT story published Friday:

Most of Downtown Ventura is empty following the new regional Stay-At-Home order. Restaurants were ordered to switch to takeout and delivery only, but some owners are pushing back.

“I am trying to start something where all restaurant owners are going to wake up,” said Anton Van Happen, who is the owner of Nick The Greek in Downtown Ventura.

On Thursday Van Happen put up signs advertising a protest.

“My calling is to all the other restaurant owners to open your restaurants,” said Van Happen. “If we all open up they can’t do anything.”

“His outdoor patio was packed Thursday night,” KEYT notes. Someone in California’s health bureaucracy must have read or heard about it and dispatched agents to make an example of him. If you’re reading this and wondering, “Wait, why is *outdoor* dining dangerous?”, that’s … a good question. Other restaurant owners have been asking it, occasionally with great clamor ensuing online. Local health bureaucrats seem to think it’s a simple matter of zero tolerance at a moment when infections are peaking in California and hospital capacity is being strained. Outdoor dining may be low-risk but it’s not no-risk, so they’ve concluded that that risk should be eliminated as a way to further limit community spread.

The L.A. County director of public health, Barbara Ferrer, was asked to respond to Giroir’s comments Monday at a news conference.

“The data is really crystal clear at every single level that you look at it: That wearing a mask is one of the best protections you have from preventing [coronavirus infections],” Ferrer said. “I don’t think there’s any debate: That where people are in close proximity with other people, not in their household, not wearing masks and mingling for extended periods of time … there’s increased risk of transmission.”

What will lead to fewer infections in the aggregate? A zero-tolerance policy for people congregating, even outdoors, in order to send a forceful message that *any* gathering is dangerous at a moment when the virus is spreading unchecked? Or a policy in which low-risk gatherings are tolerated in order to give people an outlet for congregating in safe-ish ways, in the expectation that they’ll be more careful about avoiding riskier gatherings as a result? Is there a psychological “pressure valve” of social interaction that bursts when restrictions become too onerous, leading people to say “to hell with it” and throw caution to the wind?


Another issue L.A. County officials are seeing is a lack of compliance with pandemic workplace rules. In L.A. County, only 61% of restaurants and bars visited by health inspectors between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3 complied with coronavirus rules. Seventy-one percent of gyms were in compliance, as were 69% of retail stores and indoor malls, 48% of food markets and 46% of hotels. None of the 14 garment manufacturers visited by the county were in full compliance.

That’s a lot of noncompliance. Would easing off on the regulations a bit encourage businesses to be stricter about enforcing the remaining regulations?

Normally the logical way to approach this would be to weigh the risk of infection from outdoor dining, which is low but not zero, against the risk of economic calamity to businesses if they’re forced to limit dining options, which is high or even catastrophic. But the X factor is hospital capacity. What do you do when you’ve reached a degree of contagion in which each new infection brings you closer to a severe regional health-care crisis? That is, if forced to choose, would you rather restaurants continue to operate or hospitals?

I think that’s the way health officials in Cali approach this question. But the likely outcome is chaos — some restaurants will go under, some will refuse to comply and spread infections, and hospitals will continue to strain as cases grow. Human misery, everywhere you look. 2020 to its essence.

Three clips here from the Caller, all of which are hard to watch. This poor guy is trying his best to survive, but so are local ERs. In lieu of an exit question, read New York magazine on how California is coming apart during the pandemic as residents struggle with the byzantine tangle of social-distancing restrictions and the hypocrisy of officials like Gavin Newsom (who may soon be facing a serious recall effort) in flouting them. Quote: “Some towns have taken brazen steps to create their own health departments to circumvent the county’s public-health rulings entirely, a move dubbed by some as a ‘mini secession.'”