Board recommends that vocational schools should reopen, restrictions on golf courses should be dropped, masks in public and social distancing to be no longer required

Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

After pushing back a decision during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 5, the supervisors voted on Friday, May 8 to recommend to the county’s top health official that he rescind and amend extended orders he issued just a week earlier.

The unanimous decision to approve the motion as recommended terminated and amends extended health orders put in place by Dr. Cameron Kaiser, public health officer of the Riverside County University Health System, who was expected to sign the orders on Saturday, May 9. 

The result of the vote would rescind Kaiser’s ban on short-term rentals, restrictions on golf courses, and would end social-distancing practicing requirements as well as the mandating of face coverings for residents when outside their homes.

The motion included an amendment pertaining to removing vocational schools from the school closure orders while keeping public schools closed. 

At the time of his extended orders more than a week ago, Kaiser said, “for the immediate future, this is the new normal in Riverside County.” The board granted Kaiser unfettered authority to issue public health mandates when it declared a local emergency on March 10.

In response, Board Chairman Manuel Perez announced plans to ask the board to terminate the remaining public health orders and bring forth the motion presented by 2nd District Vice Chairman Karen Spiegel.

But after more than 8 hours of public comment and testimony on Tuesday, the board was not able to gain a consensus and ultimately voted 3-2 to call a special meeting for Friday to revisit the issue. They expressed an interest in hearing what California Governor Gavin Newsom would announce regarding Phase 2 of his plan to open the state up to commerce. 

Newsom and the California Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, on Thursday broadly outlined the changes under phase two of the governor’s multi-point plan for reducing regulations and restarting the state’s economy, while stressing the virus is no less dangerous.

The state also recommends they take precautions such as testing employees for virus symptoms when their shifts begin and providing them with face coverings. Customers also should wear masks.

The four-step process of reopening means that while retailers such as clothing and book stores and florists can reopen, higher-risk businesses like hair salons, gyms, and shopping malls will come later.

On Friday, almost 100 county residents and officials had signed up to speak to the supervisors and the 1:30 p.m. meeting stretched well into Friday evening. 

Many of the public speakers pressed the supervisors to go even further than nullifying Kaiser’s recommendations and aligning with state guidelines. And yet others urged the county to keep Kaiser’s recommendations in place. 

“The original goal behind this vote, if you will, of these four amended guidances that we have from our public health officers, was to try to align ourselves with the governor so we would not have as much confusion,” Perez said. “So we were just saying, why don’t just get rid of that and align ourselves and coordinate with the governor’s office.”

Perez admitted that the county could not meet some of the thresholds to speed up the opening of businesses in the county based on state recommendations. 

He said business owners assured him that they are willing to take precautions by wearing gloves and masks and that they just needed to be supported.

A resident of the county used his time to hold up an American flag during the public comment portion of the meeting. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“Potentially we could move into that 2.5 at a reasonable level,” Perez said. 

Supervisor Spiegel insisted that the county needs to reopen businesses to help its residents, but warned about opening in the face of state guidelines and orders, thus putting state funding at risk. 

She also mentioned that businesses that open in advance of state mandates, they could lose state licensing that the county can’t override. 

“If we don’t take the right precautions, we may be hurting businesses worse in the long run,” she said. 

Fifth District Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said “We have created a cast system in this country,” addressing essential and non-essential job classifications. 

“When we open this up, and I hope it will be today because I realize that businesses, who are really smart,” he said. “They will do what they need to, to attract the most customers. Though I don’t feel I need a mask, I don’t like a mask, that’s my personal choice. I think people are smart enough to make those decisions themselves.”

Hewitt offered an amended motion to “drop all COVID-related restrictions” that the county has now on businesses and freedom of movement. 

After Kaiser clarified that there were no other restrictions beyond the restrictions he issued more than week ago, Hewitt went a step further. 

“I put that wrong then, that we also get rid of all the governor’s imposed restrictions along with it,” he said.

First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries speaks during a special meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Friday, May. 8. Valley News/Courtesy photo

First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries admitted he didn’t think what Newsom was doing was “constitutional nor wise,” but doubted whether they had any authority to overrule those orders. 

“I would say we have a moral authority to save our dead and they’re dying out there,” Hewitt said. 

Jeffries suggested an amendment that included a best practice model for individual businesses to implement, instead of having the county mandate them. 

Third District Supervisor Chuck Washington said he was emotional about this issue. He said he was hesitant to move against state recommendations, given the fact that their actions could cost the county millions in emergency funding. 

“I’m not willing to risk $100 million of your taxpayer dollars just because it might feel good in the moment,” Washington said, explaining that he felt the board could find a way to continue to comply with state orders while pushing back and creating partnerships with neighboring counties. 

Hewitt continued to push back, saying that Newsom was threatening the lives and wellbeing of his constituents. 

“I don’t believe this governor has any say over us in any kind of way when he makes that kind of statement,” Hewitt said. 

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report. 

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com