Town Crier: Laguna in the Time of COVID-19

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Downtown Laguna Beach. File Photo

By Donna Furey and Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy

Life for Laguna Beach business owners and employees has dramatically changed on a daily basis for the past week due to the coronavirus.

State and county officials are discouraging gatherings of more than 10 people outside of homes unless they’re related to essential services. That’s easier said than done for the thousands of people in Laguna Beach who either can’t work from home or afford to close their businesses.

Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, executive director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she fielded calls until about 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday night from business owners concerned about Orange County Health Officer Nichole Quick’s order to limit non-essential activities, close bars, and limit restaurants to take-out and delivery only.

“It’s pretty apocalyptic down here,” Hornbuckle-Arnold said.

Some business groups have kicked around the idea of lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom to offer some form of sales tax relief, a move Hornbucke-Arnold said would be unprecedented in her career. It’s unclear how the Chamber would even pursue such an extraordinary measure. She planned to join South Orange County business leaders on a conference call Wednesday afternoon with Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) to discuss options for federal assistance.

Over the last few days, Hornbuckle-Arnold has become a confidant for business owners stressed out about a variety of issues unrelated to her job at the Chamber. In some cases, she said it feels like she knows some of these people even though she’s never met them.

“Honestly, it makes my job very rewarding,” she said. “It’s not so black-and-white when you’re talking to people about their livelihood.”

The Chamber has organized a Facebook Live webinar with labor and employment attorney Dawn Knepper of Buchalter Law Firm at 12 p.m. on Friday to educate employers about operating in the era of  COVID-19. It will be broadcasted from the Chamber’s Facebook page.

“From the chamber’s perspective, we are out there working really hard for you,” Hornbuckle-Arnold said. “We’re not taking days off or hours off. Let us know if your closed, let us know if you’re open.”

The Independent has started assembling a list of restaurants and cafes that have transitioned to to-go menus or are offering special deals. Here’s what we know about how other Laguna Beach businesses are faring this week:

Galleries

Forest & Ocean Gallery hosted the Laguna Plein Air Painter Association reception last Saturday. Gallery owner Ludo Leideritz said about 15 people attended in person and many took advantage of the live stream which included a question and answer session with six artists. “We sold art,” he said adding that the gallery is a clean, safe space and exists to support artists. The show continues through March 23. All works can be seen and purchased online at LPAPA.org using the DailyBrushwork link.

Peter Blake said he doesn’t feel compelled to close his gallery because almost all his customers call to make appointments to see the art. He and his one employee are taking every precaution to sanitize the premises. While he anticipates galleries might be called upon to close their doors he refers to his sparse, white space as a clean, safe spot.

At Wyland Studio Gallery, employees are using Lysol to clean hard surfaces and business has slowed but the plan is to stay open unless directed by the state to close.

“It’s empty; come buy art,” a staff member said Monday.

The First Thursdays Art Walk scheduled for April has been canceled in light of the recommendations of federal, state and local agencies. A decision on May Art Walk will be made at a future date.

“We hope you stay well and look forward to resuming normal activities when appropriate,” the Art Walk’s Board of Directors said in a prepared statement.

Beauty and Style

Despite the admonition to maintain a six-foot distance in public spaces, some hair salons are open. At the British Hair Company downtown, owner Paul Welsh says they’ve “doubled up” on cleaning even though scissors, combs and brushes are always fresh for each customer and capes are always worn just once. He said many of his stylists are fully booked two months out.

But, at Simpatico Salon in the village, owner Matthew Scott says some of his customers are re-booking for a later date. He also noted that while the industry already requires strict sanitation rules he’s also stepping up cleaning regimens.

Fredric H. Rubel jewelers is closed until March 31 but will for appointments. (949-565-2789; rubeljewlers.com)

Things People Need

At Coast Hardware, floor manager Barbara Corman said that while they haven’t had huge crowds of shoppers certain items like bleach, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer and wipes sold out earlier this week, and the Ace Hardware warehouse is also depleted of those items. There is a limit to the amount that customers can buy of other items and they are disinfecting hard surfaces regularly. Cashiers are wearing gloves to handle cash and suggesting customers use credit cards for their purchases.

“Unless the city tells us to close, we’ll remain open,” Corman said. “We have a lot of things people need.”

Closures and Postponements

The No Square Theatre, the library, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and The Boys & Girls Clubs are closed. The Laguna College of Art & Design’s Speak Easy is postponed until June 12. The Assistance League’s thrift shop and Chapter House are closed until April 1.

The “Cat’s Meow” fundraiser brunch scheduled for March 22 has been postponed, the Blue Bell Foundation announced. And, Laguna Beach Books is canceling events through the end of March including the event with Randy Kraft scheduled for Sunday, March 23. The book store will remain open for business and has increased sanitizing procedures. They are also offering curbside service in the alley behind the store. Call 949-494-4779 to make an order.

Activists Pause Petition for Voter-Approved Development

A local political action committee, Laguna Residents First, has postponed the signature-gathering for their proposed ballot initiative, which would require voter approval for significant commercial development, until the state of emergency over the coronavirus has been resolved.

“We are also concerned that election laws require face-to-face gathering of signatures,” Laguna Residents First co-founder George Weiss said in a prepared statement. “There is no provision in the state law that would allow this to be done online.”

Laguna Residents First Co-Founder David Raber said the delay is a minor setback for the initiative

“We still firmly believe that residents should have a say in very large commercial projects that can forever change the ambiance and value of Laguna Beach, and we are still committed to allowing their voices to be heard,” he said. “Once the pandemic is behind us, we will resume the process of bringing a ballot initiative forward so the residents of Laguna can decide.”

To learn more about the initiative, visit lagunaresidentsfirst.org or contact Weiss at [email protected].

For up to date information about COVID-19 prevention visit: lagunabeachcity.net/coronavirus.

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