California cities are rebelling against pandemic restaurant restrictions

LOS ANGELES – By the end of last month, an outdoor meal – no mask required – was the closest to the pre-pandemic norm for Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents. But amid a record jump in hospitalizations and coronavirus cases, the county’s health department recently said that outdoor meals should stop completely for the first time since May.

This time, angry at the order and worried about the deaths of the 30,000 restaurants that spread in the patchwork of 88 vast counties in an independent legal system, many cash-strapped municipalities were pushed back and united – forming their own votes. health departments.

“It’s like a mini breakup,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Their complaint is that the county has a recipe available to everyone.”

The discussions are about growing frustration over a county order, which many elected officials say is inherently a hyperlocal issue.

While largely symbolic because there is no process for local jurisdictions to simply set up their own health departments, county city councils have made decisions in recent days to do just that – or attach and join a city that already has its own.

West Covina City Council was among the first to cast this vote. Lancaster, home to 158,000 in the high desert, followed suit last week, as did Beverly Hills. Now, Hawaii Gardens, Commerce, Inglewood, West Hollywood, and others are debating similar moves.

In West Covina, the center of the San Gabriel Valley with a population of 105,000, Mayor Tony Wu has called the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s ban on outdoor eating, a three-week order beginning the night before Thanksgiving. raging severe economic crisis.

“We did everything we were told, and now it’s not right to say let’s stop,” Mr. Wu said. “Look, I’m an immigrant mayor trying to do the right thing, and that means local politics on a local issue.

In Beverly Hills, where tourism has declined and its budget is facing a $ 27 million shortfall from last year, Mayor Lester Friedman said the county has “lost touch” with Angelenos.

And in Hawaiian gardens, a working-class Latin village is forced to close a casino that is the city’s main employer and source of revenue. City chief Ernie Hernandez said residents could not afford to eat or pay their bills. “I don’t know what the correct answer is,” he said, “but it doesn’t seem to be the restart.”

Across the state, daily case reports tripled in the past month, with more than 25,000 new infections reported on Tuesday. There were about 8,500 in Los Angeles County, which now has more daily cases than at any point in the pandemic, and a one-week record was broken. About 3,000 people were hospitalized in the county on Tuesday, nearly a quarter of them in the intensive care unit.

Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued a three-week lockout order that went into effect in much of the state on Monday, which also banned outdoor dining and replaced the Los Angeles County restrictions.

The county’s highway-related expansion, Los Angeles, has an island of four million residents. There are so many invisible boundaries for dozens of municipalities within the boundaries that motorists often don’t notice when they enter one city or leave another – this can add to the confusion if there are multiple ordinances and ordinances in the county.

Many cities in the county have their own law enforcement, fire, and other government services, although only Pasadena and Long Beach have separate health departments – and the decision-making power that comes with them. (Pasadena offered an outdoor meal until last week; Long Beach did not, citing growing cases of coronavirus.)

But local mayors have no authority over public schools, transportation, and public health — control is primarily the responsibility of the county supervisory board, which upheld the decision of the health department.

Last week, Los Angeles County Judge James Chalfant provisionally agreed with the supervisory board but ordered health officials to provide evidence to support the ban. Judge Chalfant then sided with the restaurants in Tuesday’s ruling, limiting the ban to three weeks to prevent an “indefinite” closure order.

Although the state ban continues to replace this verdict, health officials have about a week to do a risk-benefit analysis to extend the closure. Epidemiologists say protracted, unmasked gatherings are spreading, even outdoors.

Not so long ago, elected officials in California — among the first to introduce widespread shortages — were proud of the approach that averted the coronavirus.

Then came a series of eating amusements that undermined requests from the masses to avoid it, including Mr. Newsom and others who did not follow their own rules. In recent days, businesses and officials have seen differences in the recent eating ban, for example, restaurants in the outdoor filming group have remained open, while restaurants a few meters away do not include a single restaurant.

Despite more than 1.3 million viruses and roughly 20,000 deaths nationwide since March, anger has erupted, with recent protests from the county’s health director, county supervisors and Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Several elected leaders said that although they had not yet agreed on what it would take to set up the new health departments, they had made progress, with many city councils meeting this week to discuss a number of ideas, such as an à la carte approach.

Starting a department would not be easy – or without high financial costs.

Health departments monitor, classify, and enforce restaurant safety and prepare and respond to health emergencies and epidemics. Building from scratch is expensive – especially in times of health crisis – working in shortage occupations during pandemics.

In addition, cities would need the approval of the state’s public health department. Erica Pan, the state’s commissioned public health official, who called this moment of rising cases “a critical turning point where inaction and division can lead to loss of life,” said there is currently no process to approve new local health jurisdictions.

The flood of council decisions is not the first push to decentralize the county system. The City of Los Angeles proposed a health department in 2013, but rejected the idea after learning that it would take up to two years to build and cost at least $ 333 million a year to operate. This plan was called “crazy, stupid” and “dangerous to public health” by former county inspector Zev Yaroslavsky.

The financial and infrastructural requirements were “impossible for us to meet,” said Miguel Santana, the city’s former administrative director, who is now CEO of Fairplex, a nonprofit coronavirus testing center.

Los Angeles is currently planning a budget deficit of $ 675 million for June and plans profound cuts. Mr Garcetti did not speak publicly about a new health department and did not respond to requests for comments, but MEPs said he continued to support the existing framework.

“If LA doesn’t feel the need to have its own division, with all its strength, money, and size, it says something,” said Mr. Sonenshein, who has published three books on Los Angeles politics. “The dissatisfaction expressed by cities should be taken seriously, but not necessarily everything should be reworked.”

Instead of starting from scratch, Inglewood Mayor James Butts said one option is for regional associations such as the Collective South Bay Health Agency, which “focuses on food and retail”.

The South Bay Cities Council of Governments, a joint authority of 16 cities and communities in Los Angeles and Los Angeles County without a body, is considering “joining a city that already has a health department,” he said.

John D’Amico, a West Hollywood councilor, acknowledged that it would be difficult to set up a health department, but said elected leaders would continue to push in the hope that the county would be “promoted towards more sensible actions to keep our community more viable by 2021″. -in”.

While there may be benefits to changing austerity regulations, the virus knows no bounds. And with hospitals waiting for the post-Thanksgiving ripple while also waiting for vaccine shipments, the wisest choice may be to exercise patience, some elected leaders said.

– Do you think you will set up independent health departments on the fly, how many expert health officials should be recruited there? asked Kevin McKeown, the mayor of Santa Monica, one of the few mayors in the county. – In how many cities can they be employed without money?

“There are so many coronaviruses that being in a relatively open place in the company of other people is inherently unsafe,” he continued. “There has been a huge revival in Southern California. We haven’t seen the worst yet. Not yet.”