Caldo Pomodoro is one of several restaurants in Carlsbad remaining open in protest of state and county restrictions. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It’s not a secret that plenty of restaurants across San Diego County are defying state stay-at-home orders. There’s even an Instagram page dedicated to the spots and eateries across the region that are defying public health orders and serving customers who choose to dine in.

But when I took a stroll down State Street in Carlsbad last Thursday, I didn’t need a social media page to tell me where I could sit down for a meal or a beer. Many restaurants were publicly flouting the rules by serving customers for dine-in and calling it a “peaceful protest.” (VOSD Managing Editor Sara Libby and I talked to legal experts about whether the phrase applies to restaurants violating state health orders in a recent story.)

That was before three Carlsbad city councilwomen — Cori Schumacher, Priya Bhat-Patel and Teresa Acosta — voted to increase enforcement of restaurants. The businesses have been taking advantage of temporary activation permits, which allow them to offer outdoor dining in common areas and public spaces like city sidewalks or street parking. Under the new enforcement policy, the city will work with landlords of persistent violators to bring them into compliance.

Leaders in Encinitas have made similar threats to rescind permits that allowed restaurants to offer outdoor dining on city sidewalks, streets and parking spots if those restaurants are caught breaking the rules. Some restaurants have followed the rules, but others, like The Roxy, were open for outside dining on Thursday.

The decision in Carlsbad followed a tense back-and-forth between residents who were split on further punishment of restaurants that defy health orders, and restaurant owners who largely said they needed to stay open to keep their businesses alive and support their employees.

One person said the Carlsbad Council members should know better than to let Carlsbad become “the laughing stock of North County.” Another called the move for more enforcement “Cori’s war on the Carlsbad businesses.” Another said open restaurants “will absolutely mean increased deaths from COVID.”

On the other end of the spectrum, one person told residents to think about the restaurants that have already flopped due to economic challenges brought on by the pandemic, and to think about the well-being of the restaurants in the community. Some people said there’s not enough evidence that the virus is spread through outdoor dining.

“How many businesses are we willing to lose?” one person said. “Just because San Diego and Encinitas are approaching their small businesses a certain way does not mean we have to do it the same way as them,” another said.

Many restaurant owners said their businesses can’t survive on takeout orders alone.

“This is not political,” Andy Davis, who owns The Compass and Mas Fina Cantina, said over the phone at the meeting.

Councilman Keith Blackburn voted against taking away outdoor-seating permits from businesses that don’t comply with state health orders, and Mayor Matt Hall recused himself from the vote. Blackburn said he thinks taking away temporary activation permits issued specifically in response to the pandemic could have “unintended consequences.”

The Council also voted to engage with other leaders across the county to create a more comprehensive approach to compliance with public health orders, not just for small businesses but also big box stores.

Since Jan. 8, more than half of the complaints against restaurants and gyms willfully violating health orders came from Carlsbad alone, Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, told me in an email. She said since December, 29 of 32 of those reports came from North County.

I’ll be watching what happens next on business enforcements in Carlsbad and elsewhere in North County. Have tips or other curiosities? Follow and send me a message on Twitter.

What We’re Working On

  • North County school districts struggle to reopen amid teacher resistance. Even a charter school system with schools in Escondido, Vista and Oceanside and total autonomy has pushed back its plans for reopening  for in-person instruction after teachers rejected a directive to return to the classroom this month. Cameron Curry, the CEO of Classical Academies, initially told me that the organization’s new goal was to bring larger groups of students back to campus on Feb. 1, but the charter system doesn’t have a definite return-to-school date yet.
  • VOSD reporter Mackenzie Elmer answered your questions about San Diego County’s vaccine distribution plan, including how you’ll know when you’re eligible for a vaccine, how eligibility is determined and what’s up with the second dose.

In Other News

  • Early in the pandemic, VOSD reporter Lisa Halverstadt and I wrote about how the Duwara Consciousness Foundation was giving out free meals to homeless San Diegans after many of the downtown feeding operations had halted. Now, the owners of the Duwara Consciousness Foundation are fundraising to do more for the homeless: The group is planning to build a cooperative farm with housing in North County. (Union-Tribune)
  • Carlsbad residents will have a chance to weigh in on the role of police in the community and whether there should be more oversight of the police department. The city is holding four public meetings starting at the end of January. (Union-Tribune)
  • Major competition is in store for the open District 1 seat on the Oceanside City Council. A whopping 36 people have applied for the seat left open by now-Mayor Esther Sanchez. (Union-Tribune)
  • Two large housing development proposals in Escondido — Palomar Heights in the central part of the city and Harvest Hills near the San Diego Zoo Safari Park — are expected to come before the City Council in early to mid-2021. (Union-Tribune)
  • In the latest school reopening and closing news, San Marcos Unified School District will resume in-person learning for special education and early elementary students after the district temporarily suspended in-person classes at the end of last month. And Poway Unified officials delayed reopening amid staff shortages and the growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the region. (Coast News, KPBS)
  • Parents interested in filling the need for substitute teachers at Poway Unified and other North County school districts are obtaining credentials to become substitute teachers. (Coast News)

Kayla Jiminez was a staff writer for Voice of San Diego. She covered about communities, politics and regional issues in North County as well as school...

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