NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, it took a threatened lawsuit by an art gallery to force Napa County into reversing a decision about small business closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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Despite some still very empty sidewalks, the "Open For Business" signs have begun to reappear on First Street in Napa. The latest, however, surprised even its owner.
"The victory is our doors are open today," said Linda Cordair, who owns an art gallery with her husband Quent. In a county with wineries and some small businesses still fantasizing about reopening, they have the unique distinction of forcing Napa County to relent. As of Wednesday morning, they may allow customers through their doors. It took a threatened lawsuit in federal court against the county and state to break the county lockdown.
"It is unprecedented. They go beyond any past quarantine endorsed by any court in the past," said attorney Larry Salzman from the Pacific Legal Foundation. "I think the longer the lockdowns, the less necessary they seem and the more arbitrary they become."
Thus far, the county's decision impacts art galleries, only. The Cordairs had asked the court for relief and been threatened with fines when they briefly re-opened. They do believe that this decision could have implications for other small businesses.
"This is our livelihood. We have a constitutional right to earn a living," said Quent Cordair. "Everyone does."
"I think they backed down because we were threatened with a lawsuit and didn't want to deal with it," added Linda.
Along First Street, the Cordairs has received plenty of praise from other small business owners.
"What is the difference between an art gallery and a boutique?" asked Linda.
We heard that same question from the boutique. "I think the health department was a little overzealous in the enforcement," said Steve Becker. His wife owns Calamity Jane's down the street.
Linda and Quent Cordair have claimed all along that by limiting customers, and with their no-touch policy, their gallery is much safer than some big box stores that have opened. They believe the state and county policies have been inconsistent from the start.
"I hope there are some lessons to be learned here. Like using the word 'essential' was properly defined. And then nobody will have to go through this again."
ABC7 News reached out to Napa County and the Health Department multiple times on Wednesday. At 6:30 p.m. we heard from Elizabeth Scott, who handles communication for the city. It reads in full:
"Any statement indicating Napa County changed its position about the Cordair Fine Art gallery in response to a threatened lawsuit by the Pacific Legal Foundation is incorrect.
Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Anastasia Boden did contact Napa County yesterday and informed County Counsel that the Cordairs intended to file a complaint and seek a court order allowing their business to reopen. As the attached email correspondence shows, however, the County simply confirmed its established view "that Napa County considers the Cordair Fine Art gallery to be a retail art business. As such, it has been free to resume its indoor retail operations, with modifications, since the State posted the County's variance attestation on May 18, 2020.
Napa County has consistently considered the Cordairs' storefront gallery to be a retail art business that could reopen its premises to the public as soon as the State allowed indoor retail operations to resume. In a May 1, 2020 letter from County Counsel to the Cordairs, who were publicly threatening to reopen their storefront business to the public in violation of the State and County Health Orders, County Counsel urged patience and wrote, 'Governor Newsom has announced his intention to amend the Shelter Order to permit low risk retail businesses to reopen within a matter of days.' (The Cordairs reopened their retail storefront in violation of the State and County Public Health Orders anyway.)
The county did then, and still does, consider the Cordairs' storefront gallery to be a Stage 2 retail business. The county similarly advised other storefront galleries that they could reopen as part of Stage 2. The Pacific Legal Foundation's threatened lawsuit had no effect on the County's position."
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