On March 17, 2021, Ventura County dropped its lawsuit against five local businesses that had defied closure orders by remaining open: Pizza Cookery, Mrs Olson’s Coffee Hut, Colosseum Gym, House of Gains, and Anytime Fitness-Westlake. At the center of the businesses who chose to fight back is an organization called “BRAVE,” an acronym standing for “Businesses Representing American Values & Enterprises.” Matt Brimigion, the president of BRAVE, says it started at a table in his business, Mrs Olson’s Coffee Hut, with three other people who felt the need to push back against these orders that were shutting down businesses. Matt is proud of the fact that he has a bipartisan crowd. “This doesn’t come down to whether you’re a liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. There are a lot of business owners and are on the liberal side of politics, but they’re suffering just as bad as everyone else. The government hit everybody,” says Matt.
The County had originally opened suit in January against 18 businesses, pressuring the business people themselves and their respective landlords and franchisors, where applicable. Thirteen of the businesses settled with the County: Five additional locations of Anytime Fitness, Allison’s Café, Good Morning Café, Gold’s Gym Thousand Oaks, and five Fitness-19 locations. Fifteen of the 18 businesses are located in Ventura County’s 2nd District, headed by Linda Parks, with the remaining three being related, having the same franchisors as chain locations in Parks’ district. These suits have prompted the filing of a recall effort against the four-time supervisor.
The official announcement from the Board of Supervisors started by saying, “The lawsuits were never meant to be punitive, but rather to gain compliance with Public Health orders. This act of goodwill [dropping the suits] is in concert with the loosening of indoor restrictions accompanying the County’s move to red-tier.”
Lindsay Cohn of BSF Gym said, “If this isn’t punitive, why is Parks still hammering us for $10,500 in ‘contempt’ fines? We readily paid the $1,800 in court costs levied by the County. Why hasn’t the County restored business licenses?” She continued, “How can you do this to people day after day and still sleep at night? … There must be consequences here. They can’t do what they did for as long as they did and get away scot-free.”
Barbara Paul, co-owner of The Pizza Cookery, added, “Do you seriously believe this is out of the goodness of their hearts? After what they have put us through? The craziest thing about this is that we have never had a hearing … we have never had any due process. Then all of a sudden, we get hit with this lawsuit from the County, with Linda Parks calling us ‘Murderers’ along with Mrs Olson’s. We were targeted because we were the most vocal out of everybody.
“She’s afraid of the recall effort we have started against her. … We have the science behind us, we have the letter of the law behind us, and we have growing numbers behind us. Their falsehoods don’t add up, and that’s what you’re going to find in the countersuit because we still want to depose everyone and expose their fraud and their criminality.”
Although the County dropped the suits against these five businesses, the County has not dropped its lawsuits against BSF Gym and Godspeak Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks.
The County letter went on to say, “We extend our deep appreciation and thanks to all businesses that have worked so hard and continue to work hard to keep their employees and customers safe from COVID by following public guidelines. It’s crucial that all businesses follow the state-issued guidance so that we can all continue to move forward. We want to make sure we all work together to protect lives and to continue reopening our County.”
Matt said, “Their stance now is trying to look like they’re the heroes. Three weeks ago, Linda Parks called us horrible names. In addition to ‘Murderer,’ we have been called ‘Extremists’ and ‘Domestic Terrorists,’ and they were coming at me with everything they had. Now they’re changing their tune because organizations such as BRAVE have some very, very strong Americans that are standing up for their rights. … What we did with BRAVE benefits every business owner, not just the ones in BRAVE. … [T]he County needs to be held accountable for all their losses as well. We opened. We stood against them.”
A portion of the letter from the County addressed those hardest hit financially:
“COVID-19 has hit our communities in a devastating way, not only through tragic loss of lives but also through the major financial impacts to many of our businesses. The severity of the impact to our business community has not been lost on the County Board of Supervisors. The health and economic crisis led the County Board of Supervisors to commit $120 million in community support to help mitigate the devastating impact of the pandemic. As COVID-19 continued to impact our businesses, the Board of Supervisors committed to support another $20 million in business assistance grants.”
One of the original leaders in the fight against government shutdowns is Tony Roman, owner of Basilico’s Pasta e Vino in Huntington Beach. He stated at a recent BRAVE meeting, “Stop thanking government for giving back things they didn’t have the right to take in the first place. Stop thanking them for compensating you for pain THEY inflicted.”
Barbara Paul commented, “Nobody denies that COVID exists, but remember this, California gets $145,000 per COVID patient, dead or alive. Supervisor Long was quoted, ‘If our businesses don’t comply [with the health orders], then the county doesn’t get state monies.’ The county has grouped together restaurant and retail employees for their COVID numbers. In a year, from that category, there was a total of 442 cases in the whole of Ventura County. This has never been about COVID for them; it has been about money and manipulation.”