A masked Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville walked up to the front of Castle Rock restaurant C&C Coffee and Kitchen on May 12 and taped a $20 bill to the business' window.
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A masked Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville walked up to the front of Castle Rock restaurant C&C Coffee and Kitchen on Tuesday, May 12, and taped a $20 bill to the business' window.
His cash donation was one of dozens tacked to the glass storefront with blue painter's tape that day. Some bills were inscribed with messages to the owners, Jesse and April Arellano.
“Thank you for fighting back,” read one.
“Don't let the bastards win,” read another.
Around the corner, Neville, R-Castle Rock, found the Arellanos on the restaurant's outdoor patio with a group of C&C supporters grilling up free food for anyone stopping by. People trickled in and out of the cookout and the group approached 20 people at times. Some wore masks or face coverings, but many did not.
While the informal barbecue spanned the afternoon, the restaurant was officially closed that day, rounding off a turbulent start to the week after it reopened to dine-in service on May 10 in defiance of state orders.
At present, Colorado allows restaurants to perform takeout, delivery and curbside pickup but prohibits dine-in amid the COVID-19 pandemic. C&C's reopening drew national attention and sparked a fierce debate over when Colorado should reopen amid the public health crisis.
The Tri-County Health Department on May 11 ordered C&C to suspend operation at its Castle Rock location, although the restaurant continued accepting customers that day. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suspended its license indefinitely on May 12.
“While the residents and businesses of Colorado made tremendous sacrifices through physical distancing in order to flatten the curve, we are still not out of the woods. The virus will continue to take the lives of our families, neighbors and friends if we don't act responsibly,” CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said in a May 12 statement.
Ryan called C&C's actions “irresponsible behavior” that could “defeat the progress made during the Stay-at-Home order.”
A Tri-County Health Department spokeswoman provided a statement saying the department was in conversations with CDPHE about “the most effective path forward.”
“We are prepared to move forward with further legal action tomorrow if the facility remains out of compliance,” the statement said. “Our goal is for the restaurant to stop violating the public health order and creating a risk of possible transmission of COVID-19.”
Neville arrived wearing a mask and removed it later when speaking with guests at the café. The state representative came to support C&C and said restaurants should be allowed to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic with certain guidelines, similar to how retailers like Walmart have been allowed to.
“I think originally we were trying to flatten the curve. I think we've done that,” Neville said.
When asked if reopening posed a threat to people's physical health or furthering the virus's spread, Neville said Colorado had curbed COVID-19 enough to warrant reopening businesses and had prevented overwhelming the state's health care system.
Neville said “it's up to each individual business” when asked if opening in defiance of state and public health orders was the right or wrong move.
The Arellanos declined to speak with Colorado Community Media. The couple's attorney Randy Corporon said he and his clients are still exploring legal options but might initiate a lawsuit against Gov. Jared Polis claiming damages and violations of constitutional rights.
He did not know if the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or the Tri-County Health Department would also be named in any lawsuits.
Corporon doubts the business can reopen in Castle Rock once the pandemic subsides. He believed COVID-19 pushed C&C Coffee and Kitchen's Castle Rock location to the brink of bankruptcy. Revoking the business license forced the Colorado Springs location to close as well.
He believed both locations were paying off debts and in a viable financial position before the pandemic. The restaurant had received a $5,000 grant from a program the Town of Castle Rock is running during the pandemic, according to media reports. A GoFundMe for the restaurant had raised more than $22,000 as of 8 p.m. May 12.
Neville said he does not believe C&C or businesses in similar financial positions had any choice in disobeying the shutdowns, and he could see it sparking a trend.
“I think you're going to see more and more of that because their option is to file for bankruptcy right now,” Neville said.
Neville suggested using funds from the CARES Act to reimburse business owners for business personal property taxes. He called it “disturbing” that businesses are forced to close under a government mandate but still required to pay those taxes.
“At the very least, we shouldn't be taxing them if we're forcing them to close,” he said.
The longer Colorado takes to reopen, he said, the greater the state deficit will grow.
Neville condemned Tri-County ordering C&C to close and the state's revoking of C&C's license. He believes Douglas County should sever ties with Tri-County, he said, echoing a call he and other legislators made earlier in the pandemic.
“I think there's a lot of issues with Tri-County. I think first off, any health department shouldn't have the extreme authority to issue shutdowns like they did on the 25th without any sort of elected official approval,” Neville said. “I see that there is a need for that for a brief amount of time, but we are now at almost two months and that's probably too long.”
Neville said both health department orders and a governor's executive orders should eventually be put to a vote of the Legislature — possibly 15 or 30 days after they are issued — to provide more checks and balances in the system.
“It should really be a vote of someone who is elected because they are accountable,” Neville said. “I'm elected. I'll be accountable for taping a $20 there. I'm sure there's people going to be angry at me for that, but I'll be glad to stand up in front of the voters and explain my decision.”
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