Desert Sun: Coronavirus: Chamber demands plan for reopening valley economy; governor closes Orange County beaches

By: , Palm Springs Desert Sun

Published: 9:18 a.m. PT April 30, 2020

As cities and organizations across the Coachella Valley push to reopen the economy amid mounting business losses and unemployment claims due to the coronavirus pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered beaches in Orange County to close until further notice.

Newsom made the announcement Thursday, days after tens of thousands of people in Orange County packed beaches during a sunny weekend.

Newsom said he hopes the order won’t last very long. But he said he felt he had to do it to protect public health.

A memo to the state’s police chiefs on Wednesday indicated Newsom planned to close all beaches in the state.

But Thursday, Newsom said the order only applied to beaches in Orange County. Several California coastal communities have allowed beaches to be open with some restrictions.

The mixed messages from cities, Riverside County and the state are fueling frustration across the desert.

The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce pushed Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chair and Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez Wednesday to take action on behalf of the association’s 1,400 members and lift business closure orders put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“It is time to start opening back up the Coachella Valley economy,” chamber President and CEO Joshua Bonner wrote in a four-page letter to Perez that was copied to the mayors of six cities in the valley, the boards of several other local chambers and the Desert Advertising Federation Board of Directors.

“The county Board of Supervisors hold a key role in this process,” Bonner wrote. “While we fully expect them to coordinate with the governor, we also recognize that they exercise a great deal of control over our local jurisdiction.”

Throughout Riverside County, city-level officials have complained about a lack of communication and answers from county officials. Bonner’s letter follows another demand for action from La Quinta, where the City Council voted to send both county and state officials a letter demanding a plan for reopening the local economy.

Greg Rodriguez, Perez’s Government Affairs and Public Policy adviser, said the county had created an economic recovery task force, whose recommendations would soon be published as a recovery blueprint document.

The county announced Wednesday it would defer to the state on deciding when to reopen. Rodriguez said county officials were limited in their decision making power.

“We’re tied by the state is what’s happening now,” Rodriguez said.

But the chamber doesn’t buy the explanation.

“We understand Governor Newsom has put into place the framework for reopening the States economy. We also understand and appreciate that he has clearly stated he would take into consideration the unique geography and conditions that are vastly different within the State of California. We believe strongly that this is where the Riverside County Board of Supervisors must collectively lead,” Bonner wrote.

As evidence, Bonner cited the county’s decision to deviate from statewide limits on essential activities and reopen pools, golf courses, tennis courts and other recreational facilities. Because the Coachella Valley lacks the density of California’s urban centers like Los Angeles or San Francisco, the chamber hopes a regionally specific plan could allow the county to reopen the valley’s economy quickly.

Rodriguez said the county was considering taking a regional approach and, in the recovery blueprint document, would outline how businesses could prepare to reopen with social distancing guidelines, specifics on personal protective equipment (PPE) and capacity restrictions. Weekly, he said, the county holds a conference call with city staff and emergency officials to discuss COVID-19 policies ranging from public health to the economy to direct aid programs.

Riverside Superior Court officials announced on Thursday the court’s temporary closures will be extended until May 15. The court will continue to handle emergency matters affecting public health and safety.

The Coachella Valley contains high risk populations including seniors, nursing home residents and farmworkers who labor in close proximity to each other. The number of new COVID-19 cases each day has slowed, but county health officials reported eight new cases on Thursday in the region’s nine cities, bringing the valley-wide total to 677 cases and 25 deaths.

Riverside County has 4,031 confirmed cases and 149 deaths, which is more than the more populated San Diego and Orange counties.