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Huntington Beach restaurant’s no-mask position deeply divides O.C. diners

A Gadsden flag is hung with the flag of the United States of America at Basilico's Pasta e Vino in Huntington Beach.
A Gadsden flag is hung with the flag of the United States at Basilico’s Pasta e Vino in Huntington Beach on Tuesday. The restaurant has created some controversy with its anti-mask policy.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

With Orange County coronavirus infections increasing, even as businesses and restaurants operate with varying levels of compliance to pandemic guidelines, local residents are becoming vigilant about where they will and won’t spend their hard-earned cash.

So, when one Huntington Beach restaurant — Basilico’s Pasta e Vino — took to social media to proclaim its anti-mask sentiment using the hashtag #nomasksallowed, the move sparked controversy among diners who vowed never to patronize the establishment again and those who supported the viewpoint.

An image posted on May 31 to the restaurant’s Facebook page portrays illustrated mask wearers with big red lines drawn through them, along with #nomasksallowed and #securitymatters. Another image, the Gadsden flag with its signature “Don’t Tread on Me” superimposed over an American flag, was posted to the page on Monday.

The posts have inspired hundreds of angry and supportive comments from a deeply divided populace along with a groundswell of media attention, according to Basilico’s operations manager Jonathan Millikan, who was compiling a media contacts list as he greeted guests Tuesday.

Laguna Beach opts to close city beaches, Huntington Beach to keep them open, as Newport Beach officials wait to decide if they will follow Los Angeles County’s lead in shutting down for the Fourth of July weekend because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

Millikan said he had no comment about the postings or whether customers were being asked to remove their masks before entering Basilico’s. The manager did say restaurant owners were seeking help from “spokespeople,” who would be contacting local news outlets sometime in the next few days.

“We’ve decided we’re going to reach out to everyone. We may end up holding a conference — that’s kind of our plan,” Millikan said.

Angry commenters are also going to the user-review website Yelp.com to share arguments they’ve had with the owners, who Millikan acknowledged sometimes use his social media accounts when corresponding with the public.

Some of the posted conversations have since been removed, while in others, owners explain how they initially posted a “no masks” sign outside the restaurant weeks earlier “during the few weeks of civil unrest and protests in Orange County.”

“If you enter the restaurant for dine in and want to wear a mask, you must remove it when sitting down,” one June 27 comment explained. “If you are standing around inside and waiting for a table … and you are wearing a mask, you will be asked to wait outside. Got it? And next time you have something to say, why don’t you come by and tell us to our face, in person?”

On Tuesday, Yelp said the business “is being monitored by Yelp’s Support team for content related to media reports.” A trendline of Basilico’s online reviews showed a steep decrease in performance from May to June.

Huntington Beach spokeswoman Catherine Jun said Tuesday her office was unable to comment on whether the issue had been brought to the city’s attention but would not say why.

Jun did say the Huntington Beach Police Department, which is responsible for conducting “educational outreach to non-compliant businesses,” had been made aware of the situation.

Members of the public openly shared their views on Basilico’s recent behavior and spoke broadly on mask wearing during a pandemic.

Fountain Valley resident Denise Kelsey said Tuesday she refuses to patronize establishments where masks aren’t required.

“I’m sheepish about going anywhere in public,” she said. “If I go through a drive-through and see people not wearing masks, I’ve even refused my food.”

The 55-year-old said she wears a mask in public out of courtesy to others and figures facial coverings are one of the few things residents can do “if we want to make this go away quickly.”

On the other side of the argument is Orange County resident Peggy Hall, a non-mask wearer who started the website “The Healthy American,” in early May to educate people about what she calls their right to remain unmasked.

Hall says Californians are confused about a mask “mandate” she says doesn’t legally exist.

“A governor cannot make a law. He can only give direction to the agencies under him,” she said of Gov. Gavin Newsom. “There is no law that requires people to wear a mask or not wear a mask — that’s called freedom.”

Hall, who asked her city of residence be withheld due to vitriolic comments she’s already received through thehealthyamerican.org, cites California Civil Code 51 as her body of evidence.

Code 51 proclaims all people are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever. Hall reasons if a religious belief or medical condition precludes wearing a mask, a person is entitled not to wear one.

“I’ve never worn a mask, and I don’t intend to,” she said. “It’s my choice.”

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