Shasta County Gets Green Light for Red Tier. Commence with Worthy Rewards!

Congratulations, Shasta County. We’re seeing red again!  The long-awaited, long-anticipated return to California’s less-restrictive tier is good news for most of us.

I say most of us because here in the North State, many state mandates have been flat-out ignored, mocked and flaunted by tens of thousands of citizens. Generally speaking, the more rural the region, the more that’s true, such as in Cottonwood, where militia leader/barber Woody Clendenen has boasted on social media that Cottonwood never has shut down because of pandemic state mandates, and it never will.

In fact, in Shasta County, COVID-19 compliant restaurants in particular are the exception, not the rule. For months now, it seemed that the longer we were submerged in the purple tier, the more businesses joined the ranks of the noncompliant. It’s not like these acts of defiance were especially brave, since enforcement is pretty much non-existent around here.

Remember that game, Red Light/Green Light, where kids rush to be the first to reach the front line while the lead child hides her eyes, then spins around to catch the moving kids? Here in Shasta County, it’s green lights all the way for the non-compliant, thanks in part to our law enforcement leaders who have their eyes firmly shut for a long winter’s nap. We live in the Wild West where COVID rules are expected to be broken, and nobody’s surprised anymore. Citizens are on our honor to follow the rules strictly because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’re afraid of consequences. Here in the North State, not only have many pandemic rule-breakers put the con in consequences, but they even brag about it.

For many months, Marie Callender’s restaurant in Redding has been one among many Shasta County restaurants that not only defied state mandates that banned in-door dining, but advertised it.

You can see where restaurants in particular are coming from. At first many restaurant owners followed the state guidelines and remained closed to in-person dining. We all thought this might last a month, maybe two. Remember? But as time dragged on restaurant owners watched in amazement as some fellow restauranteurs brazenly enjoyed the advantage of in-person dining, with what appeared to be zero negative blowback. The temptation must have been extraordinary.

Come on, mom! All the other kids are doing it! Look! Nothing bad is happening to them!

In the end, it basically boiled down to two groups: Those businesses that followed the state mandates and suffered financially because of it, and those businesses that ignored the state mandates and enjoyed the unfair playing field left wide open with the loss of the compliant establishments. The compliant businesses’ losses were the non-compliant businesses’ gain.

Nobody knows this story better than the Manzo family who owns La Cabana Mexican Restaurant in downtown Redding.

La Cabana Mexican Restaurant photo by Doni Chamberlain

A quick scroll through the family-owned restaurant’s Facebook page offers a white-knuckle roller-coaster calendar tour of 11 months’ of ups and downs of state-mandated pandemic shutdowns. With it came a trail of tiers and fears, because La Cabana supports a majority of the Manzo family members, and extended family members.

The first shut-down was in March. Since then, La Cabana has obeyed every state mandate. When the state said shut, La Cabana shut. When the state said open, but with restrictions, La Cabana invested thousands of dollars in plexiglass booth dividers. When the city said it was OK to offer outdoor “patio dining” to compensate for the ban on indoor dining, La Cabana arranged plastic tables and chairs in its parking lot in the shadow of the Thunderbird Motel sign in all kinds of weather. No real dishes. No real silverware. Everything was disposable. The Manzos made the best of a bad situation.

As if the Manzos hadn’t suffered enough during the pandemic, in December the elder Manzo’s home was destroyed by fire.

Both parents were airlifted to the burn unit at UC Davis in Sacramento. (I’ll provide an update, with the family’s permission, when the time’s right.)

Meanwhile, right across the street from La Cabana, neighboring restaurants flung their doors wide open for indoor dining, pandemic be damned.

La Cabana is just one of scores of North State business that’s suffered profound losses and deflated dreams, in part because they’ve complied with state orders, which meant the loss of income and customers. Many businesses have gone under, or are on the verge of closing.

Like venturing outside in the aftermath of a hurricane to assess the damage, we won’t know exactly how financially gutted Shasta County is until life returns to semi-normal and we see for ourselves how many businesses slipped away while we were huddled inside, waiting for the storm to pass.

This go-round, we have no idea how long we’ll bask in the relative glow of the rosy red tier. Frankly, it feels terminal. It could be days, weeks, or even months. If we’re supremely lucky, we’ll never return to the purple tier.

Do you believe that? Me neither.

I get no jollies in predicting our rapid return to the purple tier because we live where we do, how we do, in an area populated with many people who don’t take the virus seriously, who refuse to follow basic pandemic preventions, and who vow to never get tested, let alone be vaccinated. That’s why I believe Shasta County is at risk for riding the COVID-19 merry-go-round long after other regions and their people are living large in the orange and even yellow tiers. Here in the North State, we learn the hard way.

That’s why I view this time in the red tier as precious, and possibly fleeting. With that in mind, as some restrictions are lifted, I will redouble my efforts to support those businesses that have obeyed the rules, when it would have been just as easy for them to follow the lead of the rule-breakers, and defy state guidelines.

No need to name the rule-breakers. That’s so last year. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Besides, by now, everyone knows who’s in and who’s out; who’s compliant and who’s not. No secrets anymore. No surprises. At this point, we’re shockproof.

Because this is a happy time, today I will rein in Doni Downer and refrain from raining on our well-deserved red-tier parade. I will set aside worries of Redding’s mega church that’s recently reopened and the COVID cases that will surely follow, or upcoming rodeos, or the fact that COVID fatigue has worn us all down. It’s been almost a year since our first shutdown.  Half-a-million Americans killed by COVID; 172 here in Shasta County. We’re all tired; so sick and tired and pissed at COVID.

No, today is a day for rejoicing in the reality that Shasta County is finally in the red tier. And because of that, I celebrate and recognize those business owners who sacrificed so much to help keep us safe. They deserve our thanks and our business. We’ve missed them as much as they’ve missed us.

Yes, I’m playing favorites. Even so, no retaliation here. For me, it’s not a matter of punishing the non-compliant. Rather, it’s a matter of richly rewarding those who so richly deserve it.

The others? Not so much. Not today. Maybe never.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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