VERO BEACH ― The Vero Beach City Council has passed a resolution asking Governor Ron DeSantis to hasten the reopening of “nonessential” businesses within the city.
At a special May 12 city council meeting called just for this purpose, the council made clear that the primary issue was allowing restaurants to rapidly increase from the 25% occupancy allowed by Gov. DeSantis to 50%.
“A number of us have been approached and we’ve received emails saying that the governor’s order allowing restaurants to serve at 25% capacity was not going to be helpful to those businesses,” said Vice-Mayor Laura Moss. “The 25% was not a high enough number for them to actually make money and stay in business and support their employees through their businesses.”
Vice-Mayor Moss said the governor’s task force had recommended 50% capacity, but that the governor had rejected that.
“That is the main thrust of this resolution - requesting that the governor go to 50%, because that will allow our local restaurants to hopefully stay in business,” said Vice-Mayor Moss.
Councilmember Robert Brackett joined the call for a rapid opening to save restaurants.
“I’m very much in favor of this resolution,” said Councilmember Brackett. “We’ve managed the pandemic already; we’ve flattened the curve, so now we’re discussing the reopening part. We have a number of restaurants that have not reopened because they can’t survive at 25%. I can name at least four restaurants that will never open again. I’ve talked to them.”
“They are dying out there, business wise,” Councilmember Brackett continued. “The cure will be worse than the disease if we don’t do something. It’s not just all about money, it’s about people surviving.”
Mayor Tony Young spoke of the balance between public health and civil liberties.
“There is an acknowledgment of the importance of our civil liberties, and the necessity to protect the vulnerable,” Mayor Young said. “For some of the population, the virus can be perceived as an existential threat. So the duty of our community is to make sure that we have precautions to safeguard that. If you look at the measures that we have before us, the hospitalization capability is present.”
Mayor Young added that the Dept. of Health is adequately prepared to respond to any case at this point, and locally can do tracing, “which is very comforting to know.”
Councilmember Rey Neville pressed Mayor Young on whether Indian River County was in fact doing contact tracing of recent cases, and the mayor responded that he had been told just that morning that tracing was being done. Councilmember Neville said he had been told differently.
Councilmember Neville argued in support of Gov. DeSantis’ step-by-step approach. He said that keeping restaurants at 25% capacity for a little longer would create a good benchmark so that, if cases did then increase after a change to 50% capacity, the case numbers between the two capacity levels could be compared and studied. He said that what he called the “low risk opening” at 25% capacity gives the state the opportunity to evaluate performance.
Councilmember Neville added that customers will be more confident knowing the restaurants are following a more conservative approach, noting that much of the local population is old or compromised.
In addition, Councilmember Neville said, Indian River County is a destination county, with visitors coming from as far away as Miami to have parties that they can’t have now in Miami, and people are flying into Vero Beach on Elite Airways again, both necessitating a slow and cautious approach.
Councilmember Joe Graves focused on what he saw as a violation of constitutional rights.
“As a lawyer, this whole issue of trampling constitutional rights doesn’t sit well with me at all,” Councilmember Graves said. “The fact that our government can step in and decide who can operate a business and who can’t operate a business, and then impose arbitrary numbers of how that business can operate, it’s just unbelievable to me.”
The only public input offered was in the form of two emails read by City Clerk Tammy Bursick. One email claimed the virus is a hoax. A second email said that we need to listen more to the scientists, and that “needless suffering and death” will take place if the country re-opens prematurely.
The resolution formally requesting Gov. DeSantis to “expedite reopening of businesses within the City of Vero Beach” passed 4-1, with Councilmember Rey Neville as the sole dissenting vote.