Alameda County: Pending state approval, outdoor dining, Oakland Zoo could reopen this week

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley during Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors in Oakland.

Alameda County supervisors gave their support to an application asking the state for a variance that will allow outdoor dining to resume, perhaps within this week. If approved by the state, the variance will also allow the struggling Oakland Zoo to reopen for outdoor activities only, said Nicholas Moss, Alameda County interim public health officer.

Alameda County beatAlameda County is one of the few counties in the state that had not previously asked state public health officials for what is termed a “variance attestation.” County supervisors were prepared to vote on a similar variance on June 30, but the item was pulled as the cases of new coronavirus cases in Alameda County began to climb.

The variance is viewed as a procedural action by county health officials and allow them a measure of local control over decision-making when it comes to loosening restrictions on the economy.

Moss told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday the variance attestation can be processed and approved by state health officials in an expedited manner. When pressed on a time table for when local businesses and the Oakland Zoo can be allowed to open for outdoor activities, Moss said he believes it will be soon, possibly this week.

Moss stated, though, that the variance will not result in the county moving forward into further phases of its reopening schedule. “We plan to remain on pause at this time whether or not we receive a variance,” Moss said.

We had cities, that said whatever. We’re not going to do what the county want us to do.-Supervisor Wilma Chan voicing concern about cities that chose not to comply with last Friday’s order against outdoor dining.

The issue of allowing businesses to reopen for outdoor-only uses comes as Alameda County is facing a surge in new coronavirus cases. On Sunday, the increase resulted in the state placing Alameda County on its watch list through this Wednesday. The spike is continuing unabated through this Tuesday. Moss believes the county will remain on the watch list for another three weeks, as required by state health officials.

The increase, though, should not hamper the county’s ability to receive the variance attestation, he added. All other indicators used by the state, such as hospitalizations and those being treated in intensive care units, remain stable.

Reticence toward reopening the economy too quickly in Alameda County has been a hallmark of local public health official’s response to the pandemic. A number of cities and local restaurants in the county, though, began ramping up promotions over the past week in advance of the reopening of outdoor dining and retail businesses.

But a return to a modicum of normalcy for some was fleeting after the state changed its guidance for how counties should differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining. Late last Friday night, county health officials ordered outdoor dining to cease. The abrupt move angered local restaurant owners and ignited rare defiance from several Alameda County cities, such as Hayward and Livermore, which ignored the order last weekend. Rancor toward county officials also raged in pockets across Alameda County, including one well-known Oakland businessman who labeled them “clowns” in a Facebook posting last Saturday.

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said she took exception to some cities moving ahead with outdoor dining last weekend. “We had cities, that said whatever. We’re not going to do what the county want us to do.” She added, any complaints against closing outdoor dining services should have been lodged not with the county, but the state.

Chan later asked for greater enforcement of any rules set by county health officials on local businesses, and for cities that openly defy orders. She floated the possibility of restricting county money for coronavirus-related items to cities, such Personal Protective Equipment. “I think it’s a problem,” she said of the non-compliance from some cities.

Furthermore, several supervisors were troubled by the piecemeal approach of counties in the East Bay. For example, Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties have moved more quicker than Alameda County in allowing businesses to reopen.

Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said the approach has led residents to seek services in neighboring counties and to participate in what he called “thriving underground barbershop and nail salon businesses” in Alameda County. “We’re looking pretty ratty by playing by the rules,” said Haggerty, a reference to the unshorn look many are sporting in the absence of barbers and hair stylists.

Haggerty also pressed for allowing these types of businesses to reopen under the theory that unregulated activities may have a greater chance of spreading the virus. “From a regulatory standpoint, if we want to make sure they do the right thing – wearing masks and using protective equipment – we would be better off to allow them to open than what is going on right now,” he said.