Southern California lawsuit could hold key to reopening Fresno businesses, even before guidelines met

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno city council member is demanding the city reopen businesses immediately, and he's focusing his hopes on a lawsuit unrelated to the city.

For six weeks, Jennifer Large and her husband have processed orders, watched their business stay empty, and their bottom line dip into troubling territory.

"If we continue to stay closed for even 30 days longer and the government doesn't start providing any relief for our small businesses, these will be the last orders we'll have," said the Beautiwood Unfinished Furniture store owner.

So they're joining in council member Garry Bredefeld's call to lift "shelter in place" orders and let businesses reopen.

He told Action News he wants it to start right away.

"Absolutely," Bredefeld told us. "Following CDC guidelines and social distancing, just as every other business has done."

Bredefeld knows Fresno County hasn't met state reopening guidelines set by Gov. Gavin Newsom or federal guidelines set by President Trump.

The number of new cases and the percentage of positive tests may still be rising. The president's guidelines call for them to drop for 14 straight days before moving into Phase One.

But Bredefeld says what we've learned about coronavirus shows we don't need as much protection.

"We were told we needed to be in lockdown not to overwhelm hospitals and prevent deaths," he said. "We've learned hospitals are not overwhelmed."

Bredefeld has threatened to file a lawsuit against the city to force reopening, but he hasn't filed anything, and neither have any of the business owners he invited to City Hall to support him.

Instead, he points to a lawsuit out of Southern California filed on behalf of businesses deemed non-essential.

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it doesn't look like the original protective orders violated the Constitution.

"Are there some facts to justify that?" Capozzi said. "Maybe there was in the beginning, but now that six weeks have gone by, is there a rational basis to keep all these businesses closed?"

Constitutionally, Capozzi says the government needs to adjust orders as new information comes in, so the lawsuit could drive change all over the state. Some change preceded the lawsuit.

The city of Fresno task force met Monday and almost immediately allowed pet groomers to reopen.

They're promising more changes soon, including opening showrooms at car dealerships.

And even Fresno County health officer Dr. Rais Vohra says he wants to see reopening happen soon, but smoothly and not in unplanned bursts.

"And that means really ensuring we have safety at the same time that we move forward," Dr. Vohra said. "But yeah, I'm feeling that impatience as well. I'm not immune to it."

But for business owners, it's about more than patience: It's their livelihoods.

Jennifer Large, for one, will not sit on the couch and wait.
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