Rise Up Logo

Call Us Today!
(562) 659-9599

California should unlock entrepreneurs’ creativity to help save the nation’s economy

California should unlock entrepreneurs’ creativity to help save the nation’s economy

Coronavirus is forcing businesses across the country to figure out new ways to stay afloat—and few are feeling the pinch more severely than barbers and cosmetologists. In an industry that requires in-person meetings and close physical contact, protecting customers’ and employees’ health requires creative new solutions.

One idea seems like common sense: Given the evidence that infections are more likely indoors than outdoors, some salons have suggested moving operations outside. That’s what Corinne Lam, owner of Salotto Studio in Rancho Bernardo, decided to do. She assembled some tents, rugs, and cooling equipment so she could serve customers in the parking lot.

Then the government arrived to say no.

Lam got a call from the Department of Consumer Affairs telling her that California law requires that all cosmetology services be provided indoors. And since Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all salons closed, Lam was out of luck—and a creative option for serving customers was squashed.

It’s true: State law specifies that cosmetology services must be provided “in” a licensed salon. But that rule was obviously not intended to prevent licensed hair stylists—who have already received the extensive health and safety training required by state regulations—from finding innovative ways to deal with a once-in-a-lifetime public health emergency. There’s no reason stylists can’t color hair safely outside under a tent. What’s more, California already allows gyms and other businesses to operate outdoors.

Last week, Gov. Newsom announced a new rule allowing barber shops to cut hair outdoors—but state regulators made clear that this does not include any “chemical hair services” such as dyeing, waving, or straightening. Even shampooing is off-limits. Given those limits, Lam decided not to bother trying to reopen.

This arbitrariness is unfortunately not unusual. Since the pandemic began, government officials have repeatedly obstructed business owners’ efforts to meet people’s needs—often as a result of antiquated regulations that exist not because they protect public safety, but because existing businesses use those rules to protect themselves against competition by new companies.

Licensing laws, permitting requirements, and other government regulations are often written with existing businesses in mind—meaning they are based on assumptions about how a certain industry ought to operate. But because these regulations lock those assumptions in place, they prevent business owners from offering new kinds of services or finding unanticipated and innovative ways to serve customers’ needs.

This is regrettable enough in normal times, since it makes goods and services more expensive and prevents job creation by stifling entrepreneurship. But in an unprecedented crisis like this, the problem is even more severe. With unemployment at record levels and businesses reporting mind-boggling losses, it’s critical that political leaders find ways to simplify and reduce regulations and let business owners find new, safe ways to provide services—and keep food on the table for themselves and their employees.

It shouldn’t be hard. California’s Emergency Services Act allows the governor to “suspend any regulatory statute” or “the orders, rules, or regulations of any state agency” when necessary in an emergency. Other states grant their governors similar authority. Step one should be for Gov. Newsom—and leaders in other states with similar rules—to use their emergency powers to nullify pointless restrictions on businesses and to give entrepreneurs like Lam the freedom they need. The next step—once we’ve weathered this storm—is for lawmakers to eliminate such meddlesome restrictions permanently.

COVID-19 has truly put us in uncharted waters. But there are many lessons we can learn from the crises Americans have weathered throughout our history. The first and most important is that when given the freedom to implement creative solutions, entrepreneurs like Corinne Lam will find ways to keep the nation’s economy going—while keeping customers safe and satisfied.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.


Press Enterprise