News cameras flocked to Livermore on Saturday to broadcast a rally set to protest the shelter-in-place order, but what wasn’t captured was the frustration of many business owners who were looped into that message.
As the executive director of Livermore Downtown Inc., Rachael Snedecor expressed disappointment that no rally organizer stepped forward to work with the city and the downtown businesses prior to the rally’s launch. She went on to say the business owners are working hard to stay on top of guidelines from the state and county with regard to health safety practices and cleanliness. They’re wanting to communicate that to the public, so people feel comfortable returning to the area to shop.
“To have so much emphasis on … getting everyone ready, while getting the messaging out, so people know they can feel safe coming back downtown as soon as we’re allowed to do that, and then you have the demonstration right in front of (those businesses) with none of the social-distancing measures in place, no masks…” she said. “It was a really unfair message, kind of heartbreaking for some of them.”
Livermore Mayor John Marchand supported the statement that the downtown business association was not included in planning the rally, noting that the board members seemed to be specifically excluded.
“Not one Livermore business owner reached out to me to support the rally,” he said. “I get it. We are all frustrated, but these are not the city’s rules. These orders were put in place by the county and the state. The county needs to be convinced that Livermore is ready to open, but ignoring social distancing and not wearing masks is not the way to do it.”
Marchand explained that the city’s office of innovation and economic development is working closely with businesses to ensure a safe reopening.
Resident Stash McGuinness was one supporter of the rally, who, in a public Facebook post prior to the event, said he would attend the rally.
“The science is showing that the curve has been flattened and the death rate for COVID-19 is about 26.2/100,000 Americans; 99.97% chance you won’t die from the virus,” McGuinness wrote. “We have to reopen small businesses and get California’s economy open and rolling again … If the county comes and tries to close your business down, take them to court. Time to take a stand for our rights. I will be there Saturday.”
Without disclosing names of business owners, Snedecor noted some approved of the rally as they recognized the community’s intent was to support the hurting downtown businesses. While she agreed in regard to the intent and stated she supports First Amendment rights, she also said she would have appreciated communication from those involved to share ideas about how it could have been handled more effectively.
“I would have loved to see them around the Christmas tree area with masks, socially distanced, helping us show how comfortable it’s going to feel when we reopen — that would have been awesome,” she said. “We want to be known as the downtown of business collections that’s going to be doing it right … but instead what got reported on the news all across the Bay Area was making our downtown look like it was just going to be a free-for-all. So what did we lose through that? How many people are not going to feel comfortable coming down, because it was promoted as the businesses were feeling that way?”
In the wake of the rally, community members shared their concerns.
“I have sympathy for local businesses protesting the county’s continuing shelter-in-place order,” Livermore resident Marla Kirby said. “This pandemic has turned our lives upside down in a short time, and while everyone has been impacted, the magnitude of the impact certainly has not been shared equally. But when I saw on a news clip that protesters were not engaging in even minimal compliance (many had no face coverings and were not maintaining 6-feet distance), I, as a consumer, have to ask whether I would put my and my family’s health and safety at risk, if the business is not going to act responsibly.”
Snedecor further admitted her first fear was that the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) would see the news and deem Livermore as unprepared to reopen, but she said she communicated with officials and confirmed that the downtown businesses were not associated with the rally’s organization. She noted the businesses are in constant communication and said she looked forward to loosened restrictions that were later announced by ACPHD in a press release on Monday. Now retail and associated manufacturing businesses are allowed to offer storefront pickup. Dr. Erica Pan, Health Officer for Alameda County, said the data is moving in the right direction and the county is monitoring the five indicators for reopening, which can be found at https://bit.ly/Indy_5indicators.
“There are people who are hurting, and we need to be a part of helping (the reopening) through, not delaying it,” Snedecor continued, while also adding the silver lining has been a surge of volunteers looking to help business owners with website design, branding and marketing. “There are a lot of talented people in the community who are coming forward.”