Whittier considers leaving L.A. County Health Department in protest of outdoor dining ban – Whittier Daily News


Upset with a Los Angeles County Public Health Department order banning outdoor dining at restaurants for the next three weeks, Whittier City Council members want to look at breaking away from the county and finding an alternative entity to provide the same services.

Council members will hold a special 1 p.m. Friday meeting to look at alternatives, such as contracting with the city of Pasadena (which on Wednesday allowed outdoor dining to continue) or Orange County or putting together a consortium of cities to provide the services.

“I’m very interested in exploring the possibility of having our own health department or in joining forces with other cities,” Councilwoman Jessica Martinez said during a special Wednesday meeting in which the council voted 5-0 for a resolution criticizing the new county rules.

An email to the county Public Health Department seeking comment wasn’t returned.

There could be issues in leaving the county, City Manager Brian Saeki and City Attorney Dick Jones said.

For example, it would take time — probably at least a year — to form an independent health department — Saeki said. He also wasn’t sure of what it would take to end the current  arrangement with the county.

Jones warned there also could be issues in going to another county to request such services.

Martinez and other council members objected to the county’s ban on outdoor dining, saying it will force many restaurants to close and the laying off of thousands of employees.

“With 700,000 restaurant workers in Los Angeles County, $1.16 billion could be lost over the next three weeks,” Councilman Fernando Dutra said.

Dutra said he doesn’t believe the ban on outdoor eating will help with the current surge in coronavirus infections. County public health officials posted another 37 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday and another 5,087 cases, while 1,809 people were listed as hospitalized.

“Last night I was at dinner and we’re a minimum of 8 to 10 feet apart from the next table,” he said.

“I don’t feel threatened that I and my wife or my family will catch COVID-19,” Dutra said. “Maybe we need to the restrictions. Maybe you need to wear a mask while you’re not chewing. Maybe we need to put plastic partitions between the tables.”

L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis has defended the decision to shutter outdoor dining, saying the best data the county has is based on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

“Limiting certain activity that can easily result in increased cases like outdoor dining at restaurants is done to try to get our case rates lower so we can move to a less restricted tier and open more businesses,” Davis said. “We know what we have to do, but not enough people are doing it.”

Mayor Joe Vinatierei said he has lost faith in the health department after its recent decision to ban outdoor dining.

“They don’t have any evidence,” Vinatieri said. “We’re told to follow science and yet there is no science in this public health order. The has been a rush to judgment by county health. This has become a tipping point for me.”

Vinatieri said the city needs to work with other cities that are opposed to the order “to let them know they have hit a hornet’s nest.”

The council on Friday also will consider ways to help the restaurants, possibly with grants of some kind. The city already has set up curbside pick up areas in Uptown for restaurants where the Greenleaf Promenade will remain closed to cars.

Frank Medina, president of the Whittier Uptown Association, said in a Friday telephone interview, said he appreciates the city’s effort and is in favor of leaving the county health department.

“Los Angeles County is a big, large area to supervise and manage,” Medina said.

“I think they have too big of a territory,” he said. “They should have districts.”



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