COVID-19: Welcome to the city defying California's stay-at-home orders to keep businesses open

·2-min read

The city of Solvang in California has always been a little different.

The 'Danish capital of America', nestled in the valleys of wine country, is also regularly voted one of the most Christmassy places in the United States.

But, in amongst the windmills and pastries, an air of rebellion is brewing.

The city council in Solvang has voted unanimously to defy the state of California's latest stay-at-home orders. It will not enforce things like a ban on outdoor dining.

The emergency motion, the city says, is aimed at protecting small businesses in a city that relies on tourism, especially during the holiday season.

Deputy mayor Claudia Orona denies that Solvang is staging a revolution.

"We're not inviting businesses to break the law," she tells Sky News.

"As a city we believe that rather than enforcing and implementing fines, we know that businesses are being responsible and following the mandates and the laws and our role is best directed at looking for resources for education and safety."

The city's streets would usually be buzzing with tourists at this time of year.

On Copenhagen Drive, just along from the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, numbers are sparse on a Tuesday afternoon.

A handful of people sip their coffee and nibble aebleskivers at tables set up in the middle of a road now closed to traffic.

The mood among businesses is of a cautious welcome for the city's move.

David Watts's family opened the Jule Hus, a year-round Christmas shop, more than 50 years ago.

"We cannot stop thinking for ourselves and leaning just on government thought," he said.

"Certainly they can provide facts and statistics and suggestions. If we lie down for unjust and unproven actions, we're laying ourselves open for a lot more."

The city has pointed to low COVID-19 case numbers as a justification for its action, but the surrounding county has reported record numbers this week.

And, with Los Angeles just a two-hour drive away, there are concerns that a surge of visitors could increase the risk of spread.

Michael Cobb, who owns the High Roller Tiki Lounge, described the scenes in the city on Saturday.

"It just exploded with people. We were overrun with people thinking everything was open. I tried to explain that this isn't Las Vegas yet," he said.

He faces losing his alcohol licence if he defies the state rules, something he is not willing to risk.

It is emblematic of the feeling in this small corner of California. They want to stay open, but not at any cost.