Whittier considers leaving L.A. County Health Department in protest of outdoor dining ban
By Mike Sprague | | Whittier Daily News
PUBLISHED: November 27, 2020 at 5:25 p.m. | UPDATED: November 27, 2020 at
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
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
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
“I think they have too big of a territory,” he said. “They should have
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