By: SEAN HANRAHAN
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has so far made some pretty drastic restrictions to residents in regards to their daily lives due to Covid 19. From stay at home orders to setting curfews, Newsom did not hold back in executing his authority in order to “bend the curve” as he stated during a press conference in March 2020. How does all this affect local businesses? Many small businesses, including ones in Benicia, rely on everyday foot traffic in their stores in order to remain open. How does the shutdown affect them? And most importantly, is it working?
The first wave of shutdowns in California occurred in March of 2020, which was after the virus first started to spread throughout the state. Newsom ordered all 40 million of California’s residents to stay at home and all gyms, bars, barber shops, etc. to close and limit restaurants to take-out only (CBS). Of course large corporations would not be as harmed, but what about local, independent businesses that are people’s livelihoods?
After the shutdowns and the stock market crash, the unemployment rate in California alone rose from 5.5% in March to 15.5% in April, which equates to more than 2.3 million jobs lost (EDD CA). This was more than the national average, which was at 14.7%. Most of the people that were laid off worked for small businesses that were forced to close due to the statewide order set by Newsom. “We will have social pressure and that will encourage people to do the right thing,” he said when he first signed the order. This ‘social pressure’ as he calls it has crushed the economy and ruined lives. It was only until the coronavirus cases slowed down, right? Wrong. Only a couple months later, the curve began to flatten. Newsom tweeted that it would only continue to flatten if everyone stayed home. When would it be enough for him to deem it as enough to reopen? People then questioned how long it would remain for. Even now, in February 2021, businesses are struggling and dying while Newsom continues to keep them limited or closed.
Even after Newom’s speeches on staying at home and closing dine-in restaurants, his hypocrisy began to show. In November of 2020, photos were taken of Newsom and other political elites dining at the three michelin star restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Even while the people were suffering, he and other politicians went against what they have been ordering the public to do for months to celebrate a birthday party. When first asked about this, Newsom claimed that it was outside, therefore the virus was less likely to spread, but the photos taken were of him and the elites in a private dining room. After being called out once again, he finally admitted to it. “I made a bad mistake,” he confessed. “I need to preach and practice, not just preach and not practice.” (LA Times)
Not even a month later, another scandal emerges. Scott Peterson, who was infamously convicted of murdering his wife and unborn child, and other death row inmates and prisoners, were sent unemployment benefits. Claims totaled up to more than 400 million dollars. There is no doubt that a lot of this money was poured into violent groups, funding guns and drugs (LA Times). But it only grew from there. By January 2021, the scandal grew to over 11 billion dollars, except this time it wasn’t incarcerated criminals. Most of these claims came from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. To prevent more fraud, the EDD froze the accounts of 1.4 million Califonians that were relying on that money to survive (FOX). All of this money came from the federal government, which means all 11 billion plus dollars came from taxpayer money. The people that were left to rot by the state government when they put them out of jobs and stopped giving them unemployment benefits. This could be the greatest scandal in the history of the United States, and to no surprise it is happening in Newsom’s California.
Even in our small town of Benicia, people are suffering due to Newsom’s recklessness. Jason Diavatis is a local business owner of The Loft Wine Bar & Restaurant on First Street. Like all restaurants in California, The Loft took a blow from the restrictions put in place that disallowed inside dining.
“My business is probably 50% off from last year,” said Diavatis. “A lot of cases have about 25% of the regular revenue, and you can’t pay the bills with that. I can pay the bills. I can’t make any money myself but at least I can keep the doors open. We’re not talking about killing it at this point, we’re just talking about surviving. If I didn’t have a good savings going into this, I wouldn’t be here.” Several businesses in Benicia have already closed. “There are some places that decided to retire early because they weren’t going to be able to make any money, like First Street Cafe and Nine O Seven,” said Diavatis.
Diavatis also emphasized the effect of the restrictions on employees. “His policies have gone a long way to hurt not only businesses, but especially employees… Employees want to go to work. They want to earn an income. They want to be able to pay their rent and take care of their families.” If businesses go under, then those people are out of a job. Even if they file for unemployment, they might not even be able to receive benefits because of the scandal that froze 1.4 million accounts. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone except the government, who have the power to disobey the laws that they put in place while still getting paid.
Governor Newsom is unpopular with Californians from all political parties. Some businesses have posters and are giving out flyers that urge people to sign the petition to recall Newsom. It has reached 1.6 million signatures out of the required 2 million to be on the ballot as of February 20, 2021. There have been protests regarding some of his policies, one of the most notable being in Huntington Beach on November 21, 2020, when over 400 protesters gathered against the curfew that was put in place at the time. Even if Newsom doesn’t get recalled, it seems highly unlikely for him to be reelected in 2022.