This story has been updated.
A Republican congressional candidate and Mission Viejo city councilman is calling for Orange County to reopen at a rally planned for July 25 at a park in direct opposition to the city’s current policies.
Councilman Greg Raths started advertising earlier this week the event set to take place at Florence Joyner Olympiad Park.
Mission Viejo parks are still closed to events, according to City Attorney Bill Curley, and none can be booked for any of the city’s venues through the end of July. The parks are open only for walking and for light passive use, which Curley described as “a couple of friends throwing a frisbee together.”
“The city’s overall position is we want to minimize concentrations of people, minimize situations that don’t lend themselves to social distancing,” Curley said in a phone call with Voice of OC on Friday evening. “The city is taking all efforts to not encourage crowds and socialization.”
Curley said he had not heard about Raths’ planned event, but that “anything short of a few people taking a walk will not happen as proposed.”
“There’s no special allowance for an elected official or prominent community member,” Curley said. “The same rules apply across the board.”
Raths, who is running in the 45th congressional district, did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC on Friday evening.
The page promoting the event on Facebook is called #Open For Good, and was started earlier this week by Raths, according to an article posted on his LinkedIn page.
The page says that masks at the event are optional and hopes to see a turnout of at least 100 community members.
“We stand on the side of the silent majority who closed their businesses only to see them reopen for days — before being shut down again. I stand for the people in this country who know something is wrong and will no longer take it,” Raths wrote in the article.
The page has already been flagged by Facebook for posting false information in the form of a fake tweet from New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The tweet endorsed keeping the economy shut down until after the election to damage Trump’s chances in November, but fact checkers have confirmed that Ocasio-Cortez never posted it.
The post referencing the tweet was deleted Friday evening.
When asked by a commenter on the Facebook page where the organizers obtained a permit for the event, the only response was “The same way BLM (Black Lives Matter) got theirs.” Raths did not respond to requests for comment over whether or not he personally manages the page.
This is the second time this week Raths has been criticized for his social media pages, after a Voice of OC article showed how Raths blocked constituents with dissenting opinions on his campaign pages.
The planned event was originally set to be catered by Slapfish Seafood, a nationwide chain of seafood restaurants based in Huntington Beach, and chef Andrew Gruel was labelled as the keynote speaker for the occasion.
But after a group of anti-Raths commenters on Twitter announced they would boycott the restaurant, Gruel quickly walked back his attendance at the event and made it clear Slapfish would not be there.
“I am not speaking about opening for good. And that was not my intention. I’m speaking about the steps restaurants should take to protect their business,” Gruel said on Twitter. “I’m not involved in SoCal politics, so don’t know anyone’s history etc. spoke with a local who asked for business input.”
In a phonemail with Voice of OC on Saturday morning, Gruel said he had no idea that the event was a political rally.
“I was reached out to by a local business owner in Laguna Beach for what felt like a round table speaking on how restaurants and other small businesses can pull together,” Gruel said. “Then I saw the flyer the day before and saw the group, the Open Now group it was associated with.”
“Our position is not for just any group to open, and to open blindly. It’s just not our position at all, it was a misunderstanding.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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