California Climbing Coalition gets off the ground
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San Luis Obispo, CA – September 21, 2020

After three months of closure, some California climbing centers were given the green light to reopen with restrictions in place, but by mid July, those that were able to open were suddenly closed again with no guidance for the future. Governor  Gavin Newsom finally released new guidance in September that left climbing centers, fitness centers, and many other businesses struggling even longer when they were in hopes of a more thoughtful approach.

Using a tiered system, with purple at more than 7 cases per 100K of a county population keeping indoor gyms shuttered and yellow down to less than one case allowing opening at  50% capacity with no hope for reaching beyond that. Newsom said of the restrictions, “We don't believe that there is a green light, which says go back to the way things were or back to the pre-pandemic mindset.”

“That was the final straw,” said Kristin Horowitz of The Pad Climbing. “There’s no green light? They’re putting the nail in the coffin for us and so many others. I was totally on board with the initial closure - but the way this has been handled has shaken my faith in the government. I believed that the people there would always work for the best interest of everyone involved, but it’s pretty clear that there wasn’t room for subtlety or nuance within business operations, so we have to make some now.”

While some gyms are slowly reopening at 10% capacity, and some are choosing to defy Newsom’s orders, 10%, - and even 25% at the next level - might not be enough for many centers to sustain themselves through the pandemic, especially when closure based on a spike in cases could happen any day. 

Stuck between California’s strict orders and the Federal government’s lack of aid, Horowitz and Kao decided to mobilize. While the newly formed California Fitness Alliance has filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of all kinds of fitness centers asking for California’s guidance to open gyms at 25% of capacity at purple, lawsuits tatke time. Horowitz and Kao believe that through lobbying and grassroots efforts, they will have a better and faster chance to show that climbing centers have every means to operate safely through the pandemic, and being lumped in with other “fitness centers” with less space, ventilation, and more prolonged heavy breathing is negatively affecting the 97 climbing centers in operations in California.

The California Indoor Climbing Coalition (CICC) is in the process of formally organizing as an entity, both financially, officially, and contiuing to get climbing centers in California onboard. As of this press release, they officially represent 61 of the 97 climbing centers listed at Climbing Business Journal. They have since hired KP Public Affairs, California's largest and most respected lobbying firm, to go to bat with the state policy setters. "Our representative took us on, in his words, not because we were going to make any money with him," said Horowitz, "but because it was the right thing to do." KP has enjoyed successes working with the government on loosening restrictions in other industries through the pandemic, and while they cannot guarantee movement, the California Indoor Climbing Coalition believes they are its best chance."

“We’re not Disney Princesses,” said Alice Kao of SenderOne, “We bit the apple, but our prince isn’t coming. We have to wake ourselves up.”

Horowitz and Kao met for the first time during the pandemic thanks to serving on an advisory board for the Climbing Wall Association’s “Survive and Thrive” workshop. They’re continuing that work now because California remains the only state that still has gym closures in place.

“It’s my hope that our efforts will also give people a feeling that they can make a difference,” said Kao. “It’s so easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do anymore - but if we all get up and say, this is one small thing we can all do and make a difference with, how could that be a bad thing?”

“I just know from years of experience getting ‘yes” when other people get told ‘no’ that it’s how you say it and who you talk to,” said Horowitz, “And it’s time to mobilize the entire California climbing community and get those yeses.”

Kao is this year’s recipient of the SBA 2020 California Businessperson of the year. “Pretty ironic, isn’t it,” she mused, “what good is an award if you can’t actually run your business?”