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‘We refuse to become the vaccination police’: In-N-Out Burger, and other restaurants defy COVID mandates

The drive-through at the In-N-Out.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Oct. 21. I’m Justin Ray.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

In-N-Out Burger is in the spotlight, but it’s not because people are debating whether the prized patty purveyor is overpraised.

San Francisco officials announced earlier this month that an In-N-Out Burger location was forced to temporarily close after failing to require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out’s chief legal and business officer, previously told The Times that the restaurant at 333 Jefferson St. in Fisherman’s Wharf “properly and clearly” posted signs telling patrons about the local vaccine requirements. However, public health officials told employees they had to “actively intervene” and demand proof of vaccine and photo identification from every customer.

Wensinger had a strong reaction to the store closure.

“As a company, In-N-Out Burger strongly believes in the highest form of customer service and to us that means serving all customers who visit us and making all customers feel welcome,” he said. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government.”

Communities across California have imposed a number of vaccine-verification requirements in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. But the state has seen several establishments combat the state over COVID mandates. Here are some examples:

  • Perhaps the most famous incident is Basilico’s Pasta e Vino in Huntington Beach. When officials issued an order for establishments to mandate face coverings to stem the spread of the virus, the Orange County eatery declared itself a mask-free zone and required that diners remove them before entering. It even went so far as to declare that proof of being unvaccinated was required for entry. An employee confirmed the eatery was not actually checking patrons’ vaccine status, but signs that appeared on the restaurant’s storefront were meant to serve as a poke in the eye to those who support vaccinations and other measures to stem the growing spread of the virus.
  • The city of Burbank put up a chain-link fence around a restaurant that has repeatedly defied county health orders. The fence around the Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill was meant to prevent the owners from reopening under unsafe conditions. The 20-year-old son of the restaurant’s owner was taken into custody after Burbank police said he was seen removing sandbags placed in front of the building to keep anyone from entering. Tinhorn Flats owner Baret Lepejian, who lives in Thailand while his children operate the restaurant, told The Times that he supported his son’s actions and vowed not to pay the roughly $50,000 in fines that had been levied against the business. The restaurant has been evicted.
  • Notices seen outside of Apple Bistro in Placerville warned that social distancing is not practiced and that “oxygen deprivation” masks and “dirty germ spreader” gloves are not worn. The policy comes with a clear message: “This may not be for you.” An employee who did not identify herself said over the phone to a Times reporter before hanging up: “We don’t discriminate against anybody with masks. We give people a choice.”

The question is, what will happen next month when the city of Los Angeles is due to implement strict vaccine verification rules. Businesses must require proof of vaccination when customers enter indoor facilities, including coffee shops, gyms, museums, bowling alleys, spas and various other venues. Meanwhile, restaurants that do comply still risk protests.

We explored the In-N-Out Burger situation and so much more here.

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Migrants make increasingly dangerous journeys to enter California through the coast. Encounters at sea are still substantially lower than those on land, but experts say the shift to maritime crossings — in response to restrictive border policies and the devastation from COVID-19 across the hemisphere — is amplifying the danger these migrants face as they seek to reach the United States. Since Oct. 1, 2020, agents in the Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego region, which stretches along the California coast from Imperial Beach to the Oregon border, have intercepted more than 330 marine vessels with 1,751 people. The number encompasses the migrants intercepted and U.S. citizens suspected of smuggling them. Los Angeles Times

Agents from a Customs and Border Protection marine unit conduct a patrol in San Diego.
Marine interdiction agents from the Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations in San Diego conduct maritime patrol in San Diego in a 41-foot Coastal Interceptor Vessel.
(Ana Ramirez / San Diego Union-Tribune)

L.A. STORIES

Transgender Netflix employees and their allies gathered Wednesday morning on Vine Street in Los Angeles to protest the streaming giant’s decision to release Dave Chappelle’s controversial new comedy special. Some of the comedian’s supporters showed up too. Chappelle fans, with signs featuring phrases such as “Jokes are funny” and “Dave is funny,” squared off with walkout participants with posters that read “Support, uplift, protect trans voices” and “Gender is NOT a fact. Educate yourself.” Reporter Christi Carras was on the scene and described all that took place. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

L.A. City Council votes to suspend Mark Ridley-Thomas amid federal charges. The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to suspend Ridley-Thomas, one week after the veteran L.A. politician was indicted on federal charges, including bribery and other counts. Ridley-Thomas recently announced that he would “step back” from participation in City Council meetings and committees. Ridley-Thomas, who has denied any wrongdoing, has said he will not resign and will fight the federal charges against him. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

The trial for the father and son charged in the murder of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart will begin April 25, 2022, a judge announced Wednesday morning. Prosecutors in San Luis Obispo charged Paul Flores with murder in the 1996 disappearance of Smart. His father, Ruben, is accused of being an accomplice for allegedly helping bury her body. The men pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning. KCRA

Police arrest husband of Chula Vista mother who disappeared in January. Maya “May” Millete wanted a divorce. Her husband did not. Authorities say Larry Millete sought help from spellcasters — he wanted magic to make his wife want to stay. In January, 39-year-old May Millete vanished. On Tuesday, nine months after his wife disappeared, Larry Millete was arrested on suspicion of murder. No body has been found, but prosecutors said they have enough evidence to charge him with murder. San Diego Union Tribune

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide drought emergency, appealing to all Californians to do more to conserve water in the face of one of the state’s most severe droughts on record. “As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said. While most of California’s 58 counties have been in a state of drought emergency since July, Newsom’s proclamation added the last eight remaining counties, and further bolstered his call for everyone to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Artist Karla Diaz turns insomnia into dream-like paintings. Diaz, a Los Angeles artist, is known for her works of performance and social practice. Together with fellow artist Mario Ybarra Jr. (who is also her husband), in 2002 she founded Slanguage Studio, a hybrid community arts organization/art collective. Diaz also has worked as a performance artist with an activist bent — most notably on a long-running project titled “Prison Gourmet,” in which she re-creates some of the improvised meals put together by prison inmates from commissary foods. But her new watercolor paintings, on view through next week at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles in downtown L.A., emerge from a more intimate space. In 2017, Diaz suffered a stroke that left her with a persistent case of insomnia. She began to use the late-night hours to paint. Los Angeles Times

Artist Karla Diaz in her studio in Wilmington.
Karla Diaz sits before a wall covered with her watercolor paintings in her Wilmington studio.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

How do tourists perceive Angelenos? More specifically, to what degree is the way tourists perceive Angelenos influenced by the expectations they bring with them? Is it even possible to separate the two? Rachel Schnalzer sought to answer these questions. Here’s one opinion: “People really expect everybody to be in showbiz in some capacity,” said Dara Mihaly, a general manager with the tour company ExperienceFirst. “When people get to L.A., and we’re actually showing them around the different neighborhoods, and they see how diverse it is, it’s kind of a surprise.” Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 78 San Diego: 72 San Francisco: I cannot believe this cat made this jump! Rain, 68. San Jose: Rain, 74. Fresno: 80 Sacramento: Rainy, 69.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Morton Saltzman:

It was a few days before Christmas 1964, and I was a reporter for KIEM-TV and KRED Radio in Eureka assigned to cover a school board meeting that evening. The rain was relentless as I drove to the district headquarters. Los Angeles was my hometown, and I had never seen anything like it. Early the next morning I woke up to cover what became the “1,000-year flood.” Southern Humboldt County, in particular, was inundated. The high-water signs on Highway 101 are still there.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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