CAMPBELL (KPIX) – There is growing confusion and fear among restaurant owners in the South Bay who are caught in a battle between the state and the county over outdoor dining.
A Santa Clara county spokesperson said Monday that outdoor dining will still be allowed just three days after state agents unexpectedly visited several restaurants and told owners the county had not received approval for dining al fresco.
“And I know all of this creates confusion to our businesses,” said David Campos. “With respect to the state order, outdoor dining is also allowed because the state order says nothing about prohibiting outdoor dining.”
The mixed messages from the county and the state have left many restaurant owners on edge as many of them continued to serve customers outdoors, on Monday.
“Very confusing and frustrating, and nobody’s on the same page,” said Flights general manager Maddy Dunn.
She was working at the downtown Campbell restaurant when she received word that state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents were visiting restaurants in Gilroy and Morgan Hill to tell them to cease outdoor dining.
“I mean I was scared, we’re in the middle of a Friday night dinner service, and I’m wondering are they going to come here, am I going to have to tell all my guests, ‘Hey, guys, sorry,'” Dunn said.
As of Monday, Campos said that no one from the state had told Santa Clara County they were prohibited from outdoor dining.
Campos explained that the state’s order did not mention outdoor dining, which they believed meant it was up to local jurisdictions on how to proceed. He said other counties had moved to outdoor dining without seeking state approval.
The state Department of Health told KPIX that Santa Clara County had not been approved of the variance for outdoor dining.
“As far as the county of Santa Clara is concerned, we believe that outdoor dining is allowed, under our order,” said Campos.
“The sentiment from businesses and community members is angry, they’re mad, they’re frustrated,” said Morgan Hill City Manager Christina Turner.
She said they have worked with restaurant owners closely on how to reopen safely per county guidelines.
On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Santa Clara County had been removed from the state’s watch list. It had been previously on the list because of a rise in hospitalizations.
Turner hoped the removal meant clarification as well as approval from the state for outdoor dining.
“We have focused all along on safety and getting our businesses ready and doing it the right way,” Turner said. “We want to do what’s right, and so all along we’ve worked closely with the county, and so now we’re just confused.”
Among the restaurants that had been visited by ABC agents was Ladera Grill, in Morgan Hill. Campos said that agents had a paper in hand about the prohibition of indoor dining, but they verbally told restaurant owners that they were not allowed to offer outdoor dining as well and to cease operations, other than take out or delivery, as soon as possible.
“In the middle of our rush, to be basically strongarmed into saying, ‘You guys got to shut down tomorrow or everybody’s getting fines,'” said Ladera Grill manager Chris Provini. “Two armed officers walk into the restaurant and I’m getting questions, ‘What’s going on.'”
According to ABC, agents visited about 5,800 establishments in 21 different counties over the July Fourth weekend. The agents, according to a spokesperson, did not order anyone to close down or issue any citations in Morgan Hill. The spokesperson also said that agents will continue to check on locations throughout the state, but did not say when that would happen.