To the extent Governor Gavin Newsom just turned on the lights to California’s economy, Santa Barbara City Manager Paul Casey suggested it won’t bright enough for anyone to read by. Not remotely. “Santa Barbara County got hosed,” said Casey, who participated in Thursday’s conference with a host of state officials outlining what COVID-19-related thresholds the county will have to hit before restrictions begin to be more meaningfully relaxed.
The response of Santa Barbara participants on the line was one of frustration with what was perceived as unreasonable standards by the governor. For the time being, the governor’s dimmer-switch restoration plans — operating on a better-safe-than-sorry premise — will be limited pretty much to curbside pickups for bookstores, music stores, clothing outlets, shoe stores, sporting goods stores, and toy stores. Many businesses have already been operating this way—defined in the governor’s plans as Stage II — with bookstores, for example, selling books to customers for pickup only and allowing no customers inside.
To make the leap from Stage II to Stage III, Santa Barbara County — as a whole — will have to go 14 days without a single COVID-related death and have no more than four new confirmed cases a day. The Santa Barbara contingent on the line had hoped that the governor’s office would agree to exclude the explosion of new COVID cases now being reported at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc from the county’s statistical profile. They were informed that the Lompoc cases would, in fact, be held against the county.
The most recent tabulation from the Bureau of Prisons indicates there have been 651 confirmed cases in the prison, with each day bringing major new spikes. (The County of Santa Barbara’s numbers for the same prison are significantly and mysteriously lower.) As long as the Lompoc prison stats are included in the county’s profile, there’s little hope that the county can transition from Stage II to Stage III anytime soon.
Officials in southern Santa Barbara County had hoped to persuade state health officials and the governor’s office to look at North County and South County separately. To date, northern Santa Barbara has experienced far more cases than the south. If considered separately from the north, South County businesses would stand a better chance of meeting the state guidelines to transition to Stage III. As a result, the county report on restarting the economy will not go before the county supervisors this coming Tuesday as initially scheduled but will be delayed until May 19.
In the meantime, the special task force convened by Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo has been meeting and will be making a presentation at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Among the many ideas bandied about is the age-old chestnut of closing off all or parts of State Street to traffic. This would allow businesses — restaurants in particular — to expand more aggressively onto the sidewalks and be more able to meet the social-distancing restrictions still very much required by state and county public health officers.
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