The Salvation Army postponed the scheduled re-opening of its Torrance thrift store last week after city officials objected, citing state and county anti-coronavirus health orders, and the nonprofit instead chose to swing open the doors of its Pasadena store.
“They didn’t want the store open yet,” said Robert Brennan, spokesman for the Salvation Army California South Division, despite the fact he said the nonprofit is regarded as an essential business by the state. “We did not want to push the envelope,” he said.
And that scenario sums up why the Torrance City Council at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 26 will hold a special meeting to discuss how retailers can navigate “Safer at Home” restrictions and re-open, said Councilman Mike Griffiths, among those fearing the pandemic-spurred closures will destroy more jobs and small businesses.
Griffiths, who suggested convening the meeting on a night after a long holiday weekend when the council chambers are customarily dark, is the chair of the board of directors of the local Salvation Army chapter.
“There’s no directive from the city or county to reopen, so they backed down,” Griffiths said of the nonprofit.
“I’m fine with them opening personally,” he added. “Businesses know what they need to do to open. We’ve got great new city guidelines with restrictions, but the county is not letting us do it.”
The move comes in the wake of both the Manhattan Beach City Council and South Bay county Supervisor Janice Hahn last week urging the loosening of county health orders that are keeping closed most stores that don’t offer what leaders consider “essential services.”
However, the state also reported last week a new record high in the number of coronavirus cases and the second highest number of deaths over a seven-day period. And the White House described the county Friday as a national coronavirus hot spot.
But also Friday, the Trump Administration called for states to allow church services to resume, even while research is showing “super spreaders” at large gatherings can result in a lot of cases very quickly. And neighboring Orange County got the green light from the state on Saturday to start opening more categories of business, including live dining in restaurants and shopping inside retail stores.
While the coronavirus causes mild or even no symptoms in many cases, older people and those with pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure or obesity are at higher risk for serious health complications or death.
And therein lies the difficult balancing act for policy makers at all levels of government who must weigh reopening out of concern for a shattered economy and preventing a surge of new coronavirus cases that could overwhelm the local healthcare system as people begin to mingle more frequently.
Still, pressure is building to expedite the opening of businesses as pink slips pile up.
Last weekend Torrance Councilman Aurelio Mattucci was among the organizers of a protest drew more than 300 people and he expects a large turnout at Tuesday’s meeting, too.
“People want to get back to work,” he texted last week. “And, yes, people will come out to that council meeting.”
Griffiths said he expects a free-wheeling, open-ended discussion with any number of options on the table.
For example, Big Bear last week announced it would not enforce state or county health guidelines related to businesses re-opening.
Griffiths sees the hands-off approach as a possible solution for Torrance, which does not have a history of bucking directives from higher levels of government.
“The county is hurting us rather than helping us,” Griffiths contended. “To me the important thing right now is getting our economy going.”
“Our city is managing the (coronavirus) numbers, we’re doing well, let’s reopen,” he added. “We have to find the balance and we’re so unbalanced in Torrance right now.”