OCEANSIDE — A large crowd gathered for a rally in front of MetroFlex Gym on May 13 in Oceanside to voice their frustrations with statewide closures of non-essential businesses and to show support for the gym’s owner Lou Uridel, who was arrested, fined and briefly jailed last week for reopening his gym in violation of the county’s health order due to COVID-19.
In front of several media outlets and alongside a large group of supporters, including Oceanside City Councilman Chris Rodriguez, Uridel announced the gym’s reopening on Wednesday afternoon.
“I feel that I have to do what I feel is right in my heart and that’s to open my business and start things going,” Uridel said. “We’re at a point now, on a decline, if we don’t open we won’t be able to recover.”
Several attendees carried Trump flags and held political signs, but Uridel explained the event was not political.
“It’s not about politics, not about a president, it’s not about a governor,” Uridel said. “This is about small businesses that need to reopen in order to put food on the table for our families. Politics aside…this is about something that can unite everybody together for the common good of their communities. The money generated from small businesses helps pay for things for everybody.”
Since opening last Friday, MetroFlex has received two citations for operating a business in violation of a county order and resisting arrest, each carrying a $1,000 fine and a possible jail sentence of six months or less.
Speaking to the crowd via bullhorn, gym members and several Oceanside business owners, including Andre Jackson, owner of Auto Fix in Oceanside, expressed their support for Uridel and the urgency of reopening non-essential businesses.
Rodriguez also addressed the crowd, just one week after posting a letter on social media in which he expressed his personal views on the forced closures, encouraging non-essential businesses and their employees to return to work immediately.
Rodriguez’s letter prompted Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss to issue a statement on behalf of the city reminding residents to obey the law.
The Oceanside Police Officers’ Association also issued a statement in response to Rodriguez’s letter, citing “issues with Rodriguez’s approach.”
“We believe Councilmember Rodriguez has good intentions, which is why the OPOA endorsed his campaign in 2018, but his potentially inflammatory rhetoric places officers on the frontlines in a lose-lose situation,” the OPOA statement reads. “We feel this letter adds confusion and fuel to the fire of this already highly politicized and controversial issue.”
In late April, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a four-stage plan to gradually reopen businesses, schools and public events after nearly two months of mandatory statewide closures and stay-at-home orders.
California is currently under Phase 2, which permits some non-essential businesses, such as retail and manufacturing, to open for curbside service only.
Gyms, fitness centers, tattoo parlors, barbershops, and nail and hair salons are not permitted to reopen until Phase 3, which Newsom warned could still be months away.
Uridel said he felt a sense of desperation after learning several gyms in Vista were allowed to open, attracting the business of former MetroFlex members eager to return to their workout routines.
“Every gym that’s open in California right now is illegal,” Uridel said.
Regarding health protocols, Uridel said MetroFlex has certain equipment that remains off-limits and members using treadmills and other cardio machines are separate from the weight floor.
The gym will also close for a portion of the day for additional cleaning and increased sanitation procedures, according to Uridel.
When asked if he was worried about facing another arrest, jail time and additional fines, Uridel said it was worrisome but felt he was doing the right thing by protecting his business from permanently closing.
“I imagine it’s going to get a little ludicrous if I have a stack of fines sitting on my desk,” Uridel said. “If I have to pay them, I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. It’s either get the citations and try to fight to stay open or close down and then what does it matter?”