News

State denies Santa Clara County's plan to reopen economy, prompts confusion over outdoor dining

Local leaders plans to continue discussions with California officials on strategy to allow more businesses to operate

Joanie's Cafe customers eat at spaced-out tables on California Avenue in Palo Alto on June 16. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

UPDATE: After an initial setback, Santa Clara County received the go-ahead from the state on July 6 for its plan to reopen the economy and allow hair salons and gyms to resume operations on July 13. Read more here.

---

Santa Clara County suffered a stinging setback over the weekend in its strategy to reopen the economy, when the state rejected its plan to allow more businesses, including gyms and hair salons, to resume operations later this month.

The county's new order, which county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody announced on Thursday, July 2, would have permitted more businesses to reopen on July 13. The plan also outlined a set of rules that all businesses must follow during the pandemic, including allowing telework when possible, shifting operations outdoors and imposing density restrictions, with no more than one employee per 250 square feet of gross floor area.

But the county's request for a variance hit an unexpected hurdle on July 4, when the state Department of Public Health rejected the county's variance attestation, which would need to be approved before the county order takes effect. In an email to Cody, state DPH Executive Administrator Jake Hanson wrote that the county's attestation "does not meet the metrics or criteria necessary" to be posted on the CDPH website, which lists links to reopening plans cleared by the state, at this time.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

"In order for a county's attestation to be posted, all metrics must be met in their entirety," Hanson wrote.

The email did not specify which metrics the county had failed to meet.

The surprising denial marked the first instance since the shutdown took effect on March 17 in which the state explicitly rejected an order from the county's health officer. While county officials acknowledged last week that the order would require approval from the state, they expressed optimism that the approval would be forthcoming.

Despite the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases across the state and the nation, the county still has fewer cases per 100,000 residents than any other county in the Bay Area, Cody said last week. In other counties, including San Mateo, indoor dining is already allowed and hair salons are back in business.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman said during the July 2 news conference that he was hopeful that the state would "recognize all the work that the people and businesses of Santa Clara County have done to reopen our remaining businesses and approve our request."

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

In explaining the rejection, Santa Clara County Deputy County Executive David Campos said during a news briefing on Monday, July 6, that the state determination likely has to do with the growing rate of COVID-19 cases, even though the overall count of cases remains relatively low.

"We went from very low to low," Campos said. "That is not something considered by metrics because the metrics don't look at actual numbers, it looks at the percentage."

The county's order also made clear that certain high-risk activities that make it infeasible to wear face coverings or maintain social distancing would remain prohibited for the foreseeable future. These include indoor dining, indoor swimming, concerts and sporting events.

In her request for a variance, Cody acknowledged that the percentage change in COVID-19 cases and the absolute number of patients "do not explicitly meet" the state's metric for readiness. But she noted that the total number of patients "remains quite low given the size of the County and total number of available hospital beds."

"Indeed, overall hospitalization rates are lower than in other counties across the state at the time they were granted a variance," Cody wrote. "Our total number of hospitalized patients also remains much lower than in many other urban counties."

Recent guidance from the state also places into limbo efforts by various cities, including Palo Alto, to allow outdoor dining. Campos alluded to weekend reports by The Mercury News about agents from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visiting businesses in Gilroy and Morgan Hill and telling them to halt operations because they violate California's stay-at-home orders.

Newsom said at a Monday afternoon news briefing that state agents made 5,987 in-person visits over the weekend to bars and restaurants in counties on the state's monitoring list, with visits generally targeting parts of the state with known violators and establishments about which the state has received complaints.

In discussing the ABC visits, Campos said Monday the county did not receive any advance notice of the action and "cannot speak on behalf of the state."

Information from the California Department of Public Health suggests that the county did not have state clearance when it issued a local order on June 5 allowing outdoor dining. That order prompted Palo Alto to launch a "Summer Streets" program, which initially involved closing California Avenue to traffic to allow outdoor dining.

After a very positive reception, the city followed suit by closing University Avenue to traffic June 26.

The program, however, may be short-lived unless the county gets a green light from the state. Santa Clara County was placed last month on the state's "monitoring list" of counties where COVID-19 cases have been on a steady rise. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order banning many indoor activities, including indoor dining, in 19 counties, including Santa Clara, which make up more than 70% of the state's population. Newsom said the state is not shutting down businesses so much as asking them to shift operations outdoors.

On Monday, the list of counties on the state's watchlist expanded to 23. However, Santa Clara County was taken off the list, suggesting that it is meeting the required thresholds to reopen, Newsom said.

Despite this development, the California Department of Public Health is taking a firm stance on outdoor dining. State guidelines require counties that want to reopen more quickly to submit variance attestation forms, confirming that they have met the state's "readiness criteria." While some counties, including San Mateo and San Francisco, have submitted these forms and are allowed to move more quickly on reopening businesses, Santa Clara does not have an approved attestation at this time, according to the state.

In addition, some counties on the monitoring list have been granted a variance from the state that allows dining but only with outdoor seating (as well as takeout). Santa Clara had not received such a variance last week when it was on the list.

"Santa Clara County issued a local order opening outdoor dining, but the county does not yet have an approved attestation from the state to open indoor or outdoor dining," the state Department of Public Health stated in a response to this news organization.

Campos noted in a Monday afternoon news briefing that as part of their enforcement efforts, state officials informed businesses that they were there to enforce against indoor dining. They also orally informed businesses that the focus is on outdoor dining, he said.

Campos noted that the state had not explicitly banned outdoor dining. Many counties, he said, have opened outdoor dining on their own, without seeking a variance.

"I know all of this creates a lot of confusion to our businesses, to our residents," Campos said. "What we want them to know is, as far as the County of Santa Clara is concerned, we believe that outdoor dining is allowed under our order and that is consistent with the state order. ... As of today, we have not received any indication from any state agency that that is not true. We believe outdoor dining is allowed."

It was not immediately clear on Monday how the disagreement between the state and the county over outdoor dining will impact local programs. Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, Palo Alto's chief communications officer, said the city is not aware of any city restaurants being contacted by state agencies. The city, she said, is "concerned on behalf of our local businesses and that's why we are engaged with the County on this matter to understand the conflicting details that exist."

"The expansion of restaurant outdoor dining and retail has proceeded, while being very mindful of the safety of visitors to our downtown and Cal Ave business districts," Horrigan-Taylor wrote in an email. "We are monitoring the situation and any modifications to our programs will be based on the County's guidance as the lead Public Health agency locally, and informed by County conversations with the State. We have offered to assist in any way we can."

Campos noted that the county will continue to work with the state to obtain permission for the reopening plan. "We are still in conversation and discussion with the state regarding the application," Campos said. "We will continue to keep people informed about next steps."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

State denies Santa Clara County's plan to reopen economy, prompts confusion over outdoor dining

Local leaders plans to continue discussions with California officials on strategy to allow more businesses to operate

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Jul 6, 2020, 1:24 pm

UPDATE: After an initial setback, Santa Clara County received the go-ahead from the state on July 6 for its plan to reopen the economy and allow hair salons and gyms to resume operations on July 13. Read more here.

---

Santa Clara County suffered a stinging setback over the weekend in its strategy to reopen the economy, when the state rejected its plan to allow more businesses, including gyms and hair salons, to resume operations later this month.

The county's new order, which county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody announced on Thursday, July 2, would have permitted more businesses to reopen on July 13. The plan also outlined a set of rules that all businesses must follow during the pandemic, including allowing telework when possible, shifting operations outdoors and imposing density restrictions, with no more than one employee per 250 square feet of gross floor area.

But the county's request for a variance hit an unexpected hurdle on July 4, when the state Department of Public Health rejected the county's variance attestation, which would need to be approved before the county order takes effect. In an email to Cody, state DPH Executive Administrator Jake Hanson wrote that the county's attestation "does not meet the metrics or criteria necessary" to be posted on the CDPH website, which lists links to reopening plans cleared by the state, at this time.

"In order for a county's attestation to be posted, all metrics must be met in their entirety," Hanson wrote.

The email did not specify which metrics the county had failed to meet.

The surprising denial marked the first instance since the shutdown took effect on March 17 in which the state explicitly rejected an order from the county's health officer. While county officials acknowledged last week that the order would require approval from the state, they expressed optimism that the approval would be forthcoming.

Despite the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases across the state and the nation, the county still has fewer cases per 100,000 residents than any other county in the Bay Area, Cody said last week. In other counties, including San Mateo, indoor dining is already allowed and hair salons are back in business.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman said during the July 2 news conference that he was hopeful that the state would "recognize all the work that the people and businesses of Santa Clara County have done to reopen our remaining businesses and approve our request."

In explaining the rejection, Santa Clara County Deputy County Executive David Campos said during a news briefing on Monday, July 6, that the state determination likely has to do with the growing rate of COVID-19 cases, even though the overall count of cases remains relatively low.

"We went from very low to low," Campos said. "That is not something considered by metrics because the metrics don't look at actual numbers, it looks at the percentage."

The county's order also made clear that certain high-risk activities that make it infeasible to wear face coverings or maintain social distancing would remain prohibited for the foreseeable future. These include indoor dining, indoor swimming, concerts and sporting events.

In her request for a variance, Cody acknowledged that the percentage change in COVID-19 cases and the absolute number of patients "do not explicitly meet" the state's metric for readiness. But she noted that the total number of patients "remains quite low given the size of the County and total number of available hospital beds."

"Indeed, overall hospitalization rates are lower than in other counties across the state at the time they were granted a variance," Cody wrote. "Our total number of hospitalized patients also remains much lower than in many other urban counties."

Recent guidance from the state also places into limbo efforts by various cities, including Palo Alto, to allow outdoor dining. Campos alluded to weekend reports by The Mercury News about agents from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visiting businesses in Gilroy and Morgan Hill and telling them to halt operations because they violate California's stay-at-home orders.

Newsom said at a Monday afternoon news briefing that state agents made 5,987 in-person visits over the weekend to bars and restaurants in counties on the state's monitoring list, with visits generally targeting parts of the state with known violators and establishments about which the state has received complaints.

In discussing the ABC visits, Campos said Monday the county did not receive any advance notice of the action and "cannot speak on behalf of the state."

Information from the California Department of Public Health suggests that the county did not have state clearance when it issued a local order on June 5 allowing outdoor dining. That order prompted Palo Alto to launch a "Summer Streets" program, which initially involved closing California Avenue to traffic to allow outdoor dining.

After a very positive reception, the city followed suit by closing University Avenue to traffic June 26.

The program, however, may be short-lived unless the county gets a green light from the state. Santa Clara County was placed last month on the state's "monitoring list" of counties where COVID-19 cases have been on a steady rise. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order banning many indoor activities, including indoor dining, in 19 counties, including Santa Clara, which make up more than 70% of the state's population. Newsom said the state is not shutting down businesses so much as asking them to shift operations outdoors.

On Monday, the list of counties on the state's watchlist expanded to 23. However, Santa Clara County was taken off the list, suggesting that it is meeting the required thresholds to reopen, Newsom said.

Despite this development, the California Department of Public Health is taking a firm stance on outdoor dining. State guidelines require counties that want to reopen more quickly to submit variance attestation forms, confirming that they have met the state's "readiness criteria." While some counties, including San Mateo and San Francisco, have submitted these forms and are allowed to move more quickly on reopening businesses, Santa Clara does not have an approved attestation at this time, according to the state.

In addition, some counties on the monitoring list have been granted a variance from the state that allows dining but only with outdoor seating (as well as takeout). Santa Clara had not received such a variance last week when it was on the list.

"Santa Clara County issued a local order opening outdoor dining, but the county does not yet have an approved attestation from the state to open indoor or outdoor dining," the state Department of Public Health stated in a response to this news organization.

Campos noted in a Monday afternoon news briefing that as part of their enforcement efforts, state officials informed businesses that they were there to enforce against indoor dining. They also orally informed businesses that the focus is on outdoor dining, he said.

Campos noted that the state had not explicitly banned outdoor dining. Many counties, he said, have opened outdoor dining on their own, without seeking a variance.

"I know all of this creates a lot of confusion to our businesses, to our residents," Campos said. "What we want them to know is, as far as the County of Santa Clara is concerned, we believe that outdoor dining is allowed under our order and that is consistent with the state order. ... As of today, we have not received any indication from any state agency that that is not true. We believe outdoor dining is allowed."

It was not immediately clear on Monday how the disagreement between the state and the county over outdoor dining will impact local programs. Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, Palo Alto's chief communications officer, said the city is not aware of any city restaurants being contacted by state agencies. The city, she said, is "concerned on behalf of our local businesses and that's why we are engaged with the County on this matter to understand the conflicting details that exist."

"The expansion of restaurant outdoor dining and retail has proceeded, while being very mindful of the safety of visitors to our downtown and Cal Ave business districts," Horrigan-Taylor wrote in an email. "We are monitoring the situation and any modifications to our programs will be based on the County's guidance as the lead Public Health agency locally, and informed by County conversations with the State. We have offered to assist in any way we can."

Campos noted that the county will continue to work with the state to obtain permission for the reopening plan. "We are still in conversation and discussion with the state regarding the application," Campos said. "We will continue to keep people informed about next steps."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

resident
Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 1:42 pm
resident, Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 1:42 pm
23 people like this

Bars should not be allowed to open during the pandemic. There is no way to practice social distancing or mask wearing in a bar, indoors or outdoors. If that is what the state is complaining about, I support them.


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2020 at 2:43 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2020 at 2:43 pm
9 people like this

I’m confused. I have a thought. According to LA Times recently, Covid - ill farmworkers from Imperial County at Mexican border were brought way up north here to Stanford Hospital. If these “hospitalization numbers” at Stanford, which sound bad, are affecting us residents and businesses in Santa Clara County, then that’s ridiculous. Palo Alto and Santa Clara County officials need to communicate with “Sacramento,” meaning the Governor and his staff.m


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2020 at 3:11 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2020 at 3:11 pm
4 people like this

Bureaucrats with no real skillset taking on vigilante roles possibly with a vendetta against Santa Clara County. It is like a bad spaghetti western!


Chuck
Mayfield
on Jul 6, 2020 at 3:43 pm
Chuck, Mayfield
on Jul 6, 2020 at 3:43 pm
4 people like this

More testing leads to more cases (even though less deaths and hospitalizations) leads to less opening. Shows how messed up the system is. Guess I'll just have to go next door to Menlo Park to get my haircut and have a nice dinner at a restaurant.


resident
Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 4:43 pm
resident, Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 4:43 pm
20 people like this

News reports say the number California COVID-19 ICU patients has increased by 63% statewide in the last 3 weeks alone. The number of new ICU patients is increasing every week, so the total number is accelerating in the wrong direction. The drugs that are used to treat these patients are also running low. The state is right to set the bar much higher for reopening when hospitals are filling up.


Resident
another community
on Jul 6, 2020 at 5:09 pm
Resident , another community
on Jul 6, 2020 at 5:09 pm
9 people like this

This isn’t about flattening a curve or anything beyond bureaucracy and inciting fear at this point. Even our local officials can’t break us free from the lunacy in California.


PAResident
Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2020 at 8:40 pm
PAResident, Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2020 at 8:40 pm
4 people like this

Shutting down the outdoor dining in Palo Alto makes no sense. I hope Santa Clara county is able to keep outdoor dining going.


not your mom
Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 9:07 pm
not your mom, Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 9:07 pm
22 people like this

My family walked over to see the BLM mural on Hamilton tonight, all of us wearing masks and trying to keep our distance. I'd estimate only 20% of the people walking around had on masks (some were carrying them -- lots of good that does).

If people can't abide by these very simple rules, no wonder the numbers are rising. If you all would stop being so selfish, everything would have been open by now.


Which rule?
Mayfield
on Jul 6, 2020 at 10:03 pm
Which rule?, Mayfield
on Jul 6, 2020 at 10:03 pm
5 people like this

Which rule says you need to wear a mask outside if you are socially distanced?


Nanny state
Mountain View

on Jul 6, 2020 at 10:27 pm
Name hidden, Mountain View

on Jul 6, 2020 at 10:27 pm

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


merry
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2020 at 7:34 am
merry, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2020 at 7:34 am
1 person likes this

This has become the COVID industrial complex.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2020 at 9:09 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2020 at 9:09 am
3 people like this

Generally, until now, I think the State has been reasonably clear and consistent. I find this very confusing. Personally, I don't need to dine out (in the street), but, I'm not sure why it is legal almost everywhere else but here. Or, is the issue serving alcohol outside? I'm confused.

I do see a lot of people getting very careless with no-masks, crowding outdoors, lack of social distancing. The relative safety of being outdoors still depends on keeping enough distance to dilute aerosols. Don't share the air with strangers/people outside your household.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.