The owner of the Red Barn bar on Highway 111 in Palm Desert is using the building’s roof to vent frustration with politicians and California’s governor.
The messages, “Save jobs! Hang a politician” on the east side of the roof and “Suck my governor” on the west side, have sparked some controversy with many commenting for and against the artwork on the bar’s Facebook page.
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Red Bar owner John Labrano did not respond to a request for comment but told KESQ that he came up with the signs out of frustration over being closed and not knowing when the state will allow the bar to reopen.
“All I want to do is run my business. Leave me alone, let me operate my business,” Labrano said. “I need to save my bar.”
According to Facebook, the bar closed March 22 after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order that allowed only “essential” businesses to remain open to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus. While retailers and some restaurants are beginning to reopen under strict guidelines by the state, it is not known when bars will be able to reopen.
The city hasn’t any legal authority to order the messages removed.
“The city attorney has determined that while the language on the roof of the Red Barn might be offensive, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its protections of free speech mean that the city is unable to regulate this type of political expression,” spokesman David Hermann said.
The Red Barn’s messages have drawn mixed comments on the bar’s Facebook page.
“Way to go Red Barn!!!! Freedom of speech!!!! Will spend my money here. Awesome!!!” Julie Heinz Lockhart wrote on Facebook.
“You certainly got the attention you were hoping for. As most parents know, children crave attention and will resort to bad behavior to get it,” wrote Phil Goodge.
Cathedral City resident and Coachella Valley native Sara Leibowitz said she began going to the Red Barn when she was 15, with a fake ID. She said she’s enjoyed the friendly service, the band shows and especially the pool tables. But not the message that appeared Wednesday.
She plans on not returning to the Palm Desert establishment.
“Hateful words are further spreading the divide (among people),” Leibowitz said.
Her mother, she said, has a compromised respiratory system and suffers from pulmonary fibrosis. Leibowitz understands the need for a stable economy, but safety is also important, she said.
City Council member Jan Harnik said she understands the frustrations of many who are not able to get back to work but there may have been a more positive message to write or a better way to state that frustration.
“We’re all frustrated. We all want to open businesses. I don’t think this is helping,” Harnik said.
“Our goal is to help people feel welcome and safe in Palm Desert,” Harnik said. “Angry sorts of expression like that don’t help us achieve that goal.”
The council on Thursday will consider a plan to help its small businesses affected by the pandemic by reallocating $2 million set aside in January for an economic development incentive program to a new program to help small businesses through this crisis.
“The roof does not speak for Palm Desert,” Mayor Pro Tem Kathleen Kelly said. “Our council meeting Thursday will include a plan to get some monetary help to our small businesses, so they can make it to safe reopening,” she said.
Desert Sun staffer Brian De Los Santos contributed to this report.
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