A strong contingent of business owners in the San Fernando Valley want to see Gov. Gavin Newsom lose his job because of policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly his stringent business restrictions.Drivers along high-traffic Valley thoroughfares or the 101 freeway can see the yellow tents squatting on street corners and clusters of impassioned constituents waving signage on overpasses advertising the effort to recall the Democratic governor.The Valley activity is a microcosm of a movement throughout California comprising residents frustrated that the state isn’t allowing them to live and conduct business freely an entire year after the virus’ emergence.Spearheading the recall campaign is the Sacramento-based California Patriots Coalition, established by retired Yolo County Sherriff’s Sergeant Orrin Heatlie and marketing executive Mike Netter. The group launched a public petition last year hoping to gather enough signatures to force a recall vote.One Valley business contributing signatures is Kahuna Tiki restaurant and bar in North Hollywood’s Arts District.
“It’s casual,” owner Carey Ysais said. “I’m not trying to push any agenda except fairness for the people. We just have a clipboard with a little sign next to it on our bar. People are signing it because they’re interested and they’re upset.”Ysais explained he supports the recall because of the “tyranny (Newsom) has set on California. … He has shut down legal businesses. Everyone knows this is a serious virus and everything, but what they’ve done in California is absolutely overreaching.” He mentioned the hypocrisy of Newsom’s visit to the expensive French Laundry restaurant in Napa last fall for an indoor, unmasked birthday lunch with high-profile donors and lobbyists. The lunch has become an oft-referenced touchpoint in pro-recall circles.
‘Locking everybody down’According to Randy Economy, who handles media relations for the California Patriots Coalition, Newsom “destroyed the fifth largest economy in the world during this virus. He added gasoline to the fire. He used draconian policies, locking everybody down … keeping 45 million Californians hostage.”Constituents are fed up, he added.“Our job is to hold this governor accountable.” Economy said the petition had received about 1.95 million signatures as of March 10. The group has until March 17 to collect signatures. State officials will then need to verify at least 1.5 million of the signatures for the recall measure to appear on the ballot and the recall vote to proceed.The signatures collected so far have a verification rate of around 83 percent, Economy said, citing a third-party vendor the group works with to catalog the petition’s progress. If that rate holds through the 17th, the petition will easily cross the threshold needed for a vote.Several San Fernando Valley entrepreneurs have taken on leadership roles within the recall campaign.One is Angela Marsden, owner of Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in Sherman Oaks. Marsden went viral this winter after posting a video showing a catered film crew setting up under canopy tents less than 100 feet from her shuttered restaurant – this was during the statewide ban on outdoor dining last winter. She said she had spent thousands to set up a viable outdoor patio only to be forced to close it. “I’m losing everything … and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio. And people wonder why I’m protesting,” Marsden said through tears in the video. “We cannot survive. My staff cannot survive.”She said seeing the film crew – which would’ve had to receive approval from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti – felt like “a slap in my face.”She responded by filing suit against Newsom to overturn the outdoor dining ban.Marsden has since set up Pineapple Hill as a signing location for the recall petition.
She couldn’t be reached by the Business Journal by press time, but staff at Pineapple Hill said Marsden spent the first weekend of March speaking at pro-recall events in Sacramento and San Francisco. In mid-February, she spoke at an event at the Santa Monica Pier hosted by Recall Road Trip, a traveling events series promoting the recall.
In a post to her restaurant’s Facebook page, Marsden said she is “proud to be working for positive change for our community and our small businesses … so we can survive and one day soon thrive.”Jordan Klempner, who owns the Original Pizza Cookery in Thousand Oaks, mentioned Newsom’s French Laundry incident as an illustration of the problem.
“He has made these mandates that are … unreasonable, unfair and obviously he doesn’t even follow them himself. When you saw him at that restaurant without a mask … he’s not worried about it because he knows this is a political pandemic,” Klempner said. “Anybody would be better than him.” Klempner signed the recall petition and often speaks with patrons of his pizza shop about the absurdity of Newsom’s health order, but isn’t formally involved with the recall campaign.
He has elected to keep his restaurant open for indoor dining despite the statewide ban on such activity. Ventura County officials have tried to persuade him to comply with regulations, but he says he would rather go to court. “I feel like a patriot,” he said.
Bipartisan or not?When asked by ABC’s Eyewitness News earlier this month about the mounting momentum of the recall campaign against him, Newsom called it a “distraction” from the more important work of distributing vaccines and statewide stimulus checks.
State Democratic Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, who represents the 45th District including much of the west San Fernando Valley, echoed the sentiment, telling the Business Journal he believes the recall is “a colossal wase of time and energy and money.”Gabriel said he understands that local businessowners are frustrated – “these are uncharted waters” – but claimed most of the people supporting the recall are also supporters of the insurrectionist former President Donald Trump. Economy, the recall campaign’s media representative, maintained the recall isn’t a partisan effort.“Thirry-one percent of people who sign the petition are Democrats or decline to state (their party affiliation),” he said. “This isn’t a Republican coup.”Rather, he said the recall – the third such attempt against Newsom since he was first sworn into office in January 2019 – is indicative of a shift in local and national politics where people are tired of an ineffective bipartisan system where neither side can be trusted to fight for what voters want.
A study by the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies confirmed Californians’ frustrations, finding Newsom’s approval rating plummeted by 18 percentage points from 49 percent in October 2020 to 31 percent in January 2021.
Economy said 250,000 Californians have volunteered to man petition booths and spread word of the recall. He added the California Patriot Coalition has gotten this far with less than $1 million in donations, with most money coming in small increments from individual donors, not super-PACs or corporations. However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this month that the campaign has actually raised about $4 million, with nearly half that total coming from about two dozen Republican super donors.
Economy called the “grassroots” campaign’s success so far a “political miracle.” “We’re making history here in California. We’re rewriting the political playbook, and it had to be rewritten,” he said.