Some Balk at Taking a Day Off for the Gipper

Times Staff Writer

Open or closed?

Public officials throughout California were conflicted this week on whether to follow the federal government’s lead in shutting down Friday to mourn the death of President Reagan.

The state and some local governments, including Los Angeles and San Diego counties and the city of San Diego, concluded that closing was the most fitting tribute to the former president as the nation observes Friday’s official day of mourning. They cited Reagan’s deep roots in California and his accomplishments as president and governor.

Others, including Orange County officials, said Reagan would have wanted them hard at work. And Superior Courts, among others, will remain open for business.


Some governments invoked fiscal arguments in deciding to stay open, saying closure would cost millions of dollars in lost production. And school districts will teach Friday, saying they couldn’t afford the loss of state funding, which is based on daily student attendance.

Los Angeles city officials struck something of a compromise, deciding to keep City Hall open but canceling their council meeting.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed Friday a statewide day of remembrance, ordering state offices closed and legislative hearings postponed.

“Our hope is to recognize him differently and more substantively than maybe other parts of the country,” said Patricia Clarey, the governor’s chief of staff.

Local governments, however, were unsure how to react. Officials in several cities said colleagues throughout the state exchanged a flurry of e-mails and phone calls midweek to determine what others were doing.

In the end, only a few city halls in Orange County will be closed Friday. Orange County offices will remain open. At least one city, Placentia, had little choice because its labor contract with city employees stipulates time off for an official day of mourning.


Tom Wilson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, estimated that a day off would have cost the county $2 million in salaries and lost production. Remaining open for business, he said, was a tribute to Reagan’s legacy.

“I think the general consensus is we’re a conservative county and we certainly embrace the philosophies of Ronald Reagan,” Wilson said. “I don’t think he would have advocated shutting the county down.... He would have approved of us being at our desks on Friday.”

Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank criticized the state for locking its doors in the midst of a fiscal crisis and said the city could ill-afford the estimated $50,000 price tag for a day off.

“I’m agitated that the state can do this while they’re cutting our funding,” he said. “Any of our employees who feel strongly about it are welcome to take a day of vacation, but from our perspective, there is no reason to close.”

His criticism echoed that of others concerned about the $58.9 million in state employee salaries that will be lost Friday, according to officials in the governor’s finance department.

Several Riverside County cities, including Corona, Indian Wells and Palm Desert, elected to close up shop.


“President Bush has asked for the federal government offices to close, and Gov. Schwarzenegger is closing state offices. We’re following suit and showing respect for the former president,” said Indian Wells City Manager Greg Johnson.

Simi Valley, where the Reagan library is located, will close its offices, as will neighboring Thousand Oaks. “We decided regardless of what anyone else did, with the library being here, it was appropriate to shut the city down,” said Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis.

But San Francisco City Hall will remain open, Mayor Gavin Newsom decided.

“We have been really very busy with the budget,” said his spokeswoman, Darlene Chiu. “The last thing on our minds has been a day off on Friday.”

There was little hand-wringing for school districts after state education officials sent word that districts would not only lose a day’s funding if they canceled classes, but would also have to add a day to nearly ended school years. Courts will remain open because Schwarzenegger did not declare a judicial holiday.

Closed courts -- and delayed arraignments -- would have resulted in the release of some jailed defendants, a Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman said.

Some officials said they were annoyed that the issue of whether to work Friday was even before them.


“Are we going to have to consider this every time a former president or governor dies?” Laguna Beach’s Frank asked. “This has nothing to do with the pros and cons of Ronald Reagan.”

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Stuart Pfeifer, Seema Mehta, Jessica Garrison, Carlos Lozano and Peter Nicholas.