A district court judge has weighed in on a beleaguered business fair and concert that moved from a city park in Kaysville to a private venue in unincorporated Tooele County.
Third District Court Judge Dianna Gibson granted Tooele County’s request for a temporary restraining order on Wednesday evening to stop a mass business market and concert event at the Amphitheatre at Studio Ranch scheduled for May 30.
In her ruling and order granting the restraining order, Gibson wrote; “there is no indication that defendants complied with the requisite licensing/permitting application for the event, and therefore they do not appear to be legally entitled to proceed with the event. But, even if there is a perceived loss — monetary or otherwise — such does not justify defendant’s acts of defiance against state, county and local health department directives and it doesn’t outweigh the damage resulting from the number of citizens who possibly could be exposed to and infected by COVID-19.”
Utah law is unambiguous in giving authority to local health departments to protect its citizens during a pandemic, according to Gibson.
“Protecting county citizens from COVID-19 cannot be said to be adverse to the public interest,” wrote Gibson. “Utah law is clear. Utah’s state and local governments have the authority to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.”
A court hearing will be held before Gibson in Tooele County on May 29 to allow the affected parties, Studio Ranch and Utah Business Revival, an opportunity to present their case against the temporary restraining order. After the hearing Gibson will decide if the temporary order will continue.
Prior to Gibson’s ruling, the Tooele County Health officer, the Tooele County Board of Health, and the Tooele County Commission issued a public health order and notice of closure to the owner of the Amphitheatre at Studio Ranch regarding the concert, according to a press release from the Tooele County Health Department.
The press release stated that the event falls under the definition of a temporary mass gathering as defined in Utah Administrative Code R392-400.
Governor Gary Herbert issued an executive order on May 15 that directs individuals and businesses in yellow, or low risk, areas of the state, which includes Tooele County, to comply with the low risk provisions of the state’s “Phased Guidelines.”
Those guidelines for events such as concerts, do allow for an event size exceeding 50 individuals, if guidelines are followed.
However those guidelines also state “no temporary mass gatherings as defined in Rule R392-400.”
Tooele County has a process for permitting temporary mass gatherings as defined by R392-400, according to Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne, but that process requires the application to be submitted 30 days before the event, he said.
“We made it clear (to the event organizer) from the beginning that we wanted them to follow the process (to get a permit),” said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne. “Both the event organizer and the venue owner made it clear that they would proceed without a permit. That would not be equitable (with other large events planned in the county). Irrespective of the pandemic, the process needs to be followed. I told them that we could work with them and see if we could work something out with the state and social distancing and other guidelines, but it’s going to take us more than 10 days.”
Tooele County officials said they first heard about the event’s move to Tooele County from a phone call from a producer of a Salt Lake City-based radio station show shortly before 9 a.m. on May 21.
The permit is needed to ensure adequate planning to protect the safety of participants and the community. The permit application would outline plans for parking, restrooms, food safety, waste disposal and other safety concerns, according to Milne.
The permit process is not something new for COVID-19, but has been applied to all mass gatherings in Tooele County, according to Milne.
The event includes a free concert featuring country music artist Collin Raye. The plans also call for booths for local businesses.
“The event will feature so-called ‘non-essential’ businesses and give business owners an opportunity to interact with the public and sell or market their goods and services,” reads a prepared statement released by Utah Business Revival, the group organizing the event.
“These businesses were previously considered non-essential, insofar as some were not on the list of those the government approved to be open during COVID-19,” said Eric Moutsos, with Utah Business Revival, in a statement announcing the event, which was originally planned for Kaysville. “At UBR we believe all business is essential. It is a fundamental right all American citizens share to gather, work and safely interact, even in times of crisis.”
Kaysville’s mayor welcomed the event, but some city council members expressed concerns that the concert would violate state health guidelines for mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic recovery.
“We care deeply about business owners and those who want to peaceably assemble, enjoy a free concert, and quality family fun,” said Moutsos when he announced the location change. “That’s why UBR is relocating our event to Studio Ranch Amphitheater near Grantsville. At this venue, there will be free space available for up to 300 businesses. We are anxious to help even more small business owners survive and restore some constitutional freedoms at the same time.”