Larry McClements | Local Government Gone Awry

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

The latest blow to restaurants comes as L.A. County Public Health bans outdoor dining. Many are questioning this as their own data shows this is not the source of the rise in COVID cases. But it makes perfect sense because the actions of L.A. County often makes no sense. 

I manage the Saturday farmers market in Newhall. We are committed to providing a safe environment for customers and doing our part to stop the spread. We are an essential business. Every week we bring farm-direct produce, dairy, meats, fresh seafood, baked goods and more to Santa Clarita. Thank you to The Signal for recently covering our struggles with L.A. County Public Health. 

Over the past eight months, we have been subject to restrictions that have severely affected the many small family farms and local small businesses we represent. Some of the restrictions are pointless, unfairly applied and in some cases baffling.  

We tirelessly fought some of these restrictions. This process is long, slow, time-consuming and frustrating. Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office was sympathetic to our issues, but all we received was a canned response from L.A. County Public Health. Thank you to the city of Santa Clarita and Mayor Cameron Smyth for their help. While our issues were beyond their control, they supported our position and sent letters to the Board of Supervisors on our behalf. 

Some of the issues we have had with L.A. County: 

Vendors were restricted from selling in our market based on the type of permit they had. Some were selling similar products yet one was allowed to sell and the other was not. This was in April. Supermarket shelves were bare of essentials. We were forced to remove 10 small businesses from our market who sold food including essentials like fresh bread, baked goods, fresh seafood and dairy. Trucks full of food were sent away to be sold in Ventura County, donated and in some cases destroyed. After two months of fighting with L.A. County, this was changed.  

Health inspectors were at the market three times during the pandemic. One inspector demanded we quiz a group of people he thought were too close and “looked like they didn’t live together” about their living situation. Turns out, they lived in the same household. This was humiliating for us and our customers. We brought this incident to the attention of county officials and they did not seem to care, even with an audio recording of this interaction. 

We are required to post 21 pages of county notices at all entrances such as a three-page 10-point font county guide on hand washing. Supermarkets are not required to post these notices. 

For eight months, our vendors were not allowed to serve ready-to-eat food. This affected five of our vendors’ revenue. Some workers were laid off. Meanwhile, indoor supermarkets did not have these restrictions and sold everything from Starbucks to sushi, pizza by the slice and more. The county recently changed the rules to allow us once again to serve ready-to-eat foods. This, however, comes with new rules, permits, fees and of course more signs to post. 

We bring food to Santa Clarita as we always have. We support social distancing, crowd control and face coverings. We work tirelessly to enforce these. We continue to operate every Saturday and will continue to comply so we can serve the community.  

Being outdoors, we are a low-risk shopping environment. This is acknowledged by the Centers for Disease Control, who put out a bulletin supporting outdoor farmers markets. It is frustrating to see higher-risk indoor supermarkets operating without these rules, serving ready-to-eat foods, selling without restrictions and not having to plaster their entrances with a field of county notices.  

But our troubles seem small when compared to the restaurant industry. For many, the constantly changing restrictions will cause them to close permanently, as some already have.  

This is a case of big government gone awry. L.A. County Public Health is a nightmare to deal with. The department is headed by someone who is not a medical doctor yet draws a salary higher than the president of the United States and almost double that of the chief justice of the Supreme Court.  

Talking to my counterparts in other counties and Pasadena (which has its own health department), they describe a much better relationship where they work hand in hand with the health department to accomplish the mutual goal of controlling the spread. I urge our city leaders to continue exploring establishing our own health department as others have done. 

Larry McClements 

Market Manager 

Old Town Newhall Farmers Market 

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