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Cities Might Ditch LA County's Health Department Over The Outdoor Dining Ban

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Tables and chairs are arranged under pop-up tents for outdoor dining in Culver City on Friday, Nov. 20, two days before L.A. County restaurants had to stop offering outdoor dining. (Elina Shatkin/LAist)
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When we said the L.A. County Department of Public Health had received tons of pushback over its recent ban on outdoor dining, we weren't kidding.

Several Los Angeles County cities including Beverly Hills, Lancaster, West Covina and Whittier are so mad about it, they're thinking of launching their own health departments.

It wouldn't be an easy process. It would likely cost millions of dollars, it would require approval from the state of California and it wouldn't happen fast. That hasn't stopped several SoCal cities from exploring their options.

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Currently, only a few cities in L.A. County have their own health departments -- Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon.

Long Beach fell in step with couny officials and has banned outdoor dining, but Pasadena decided to continue allowing it -- for now.

Whether or not outdoor dining is responsible for the record-setting spike in COVID-19 cases we're currently seeing is an open question. A lack of contact tracing means researchers and public health officials often can't pin down the exact sources of coronavirus transmission.

Meanwhile, as part of a lawsuit filed by opponents of the outdoor dining ban, a judge today told Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health it must provide scientific evidence to justify the ban. But the judge declined to immediately lift the ban. The hearing where the health department must present its evidence is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 8.

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BEVERLY HILLS

On Tuesday night, the Beverly Hills City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the county's outdoor dining ban.

The council also directed the city attorney to explore legal action against the county and directed staffers to look into creating an independent city health department, possibly in conjunction with other municipalities.

Councilmember Lilli Bosse told AirTalk host Larry Mantle, "We, too, took a very, very strong stance -- unanimous against -- and completely disagreed with the county supervisors' vote... We felt very strongly that they got it wrong. They made a decision with absolutely no data showing any correlation between the outdoor dining and COVID."

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Like the representatives from these other cities, Bosse said she thinks the decision to forbid outdoor dining for three weeks was done arbitrarily and without the science to back it up.

Bosse said, "We received over 900 emails. I don't think we've ever received that many on any issue... And almost 100% of them were in favor of opening up the outdoor dining. We received them from employees, from the restaurant owners, from the residents. They were pleading with us to save this."

LANCASTER

The Lancaster City Council has called a special meeting for tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 3, to focus on two items: issuing a vote of no confidence in the health department's director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, and directing staff to gather the necessary documentation and resources they would need to start their own public health department.

Today on KPCC, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said on AirTalk, our public affairs show, that he thought creating a city-based health department was "inevitable."

Although Parris acknowledged that doing it in the midst of a pandemic wasn't the best time, he said, "We are going to do it. We've lost all confidence in L.A. County Public Health, and for a lot of good reasons."

Parris said Lancaster might join forces with nearby Palmdale and Santa Clarita to start a joint health department, and that the city is working with Supervisor Kathryn Barger on the matter.

Parris also wasn't concerned about funding a local health department. "We really aren't in a financial crisis in Lancaster at all," he said. "I don't see the funding of it to be an obstacle."

WEST COVINA

The West Covina City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-0 to consider starting its own health department and to discuss potentially loosening some county restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

West Covina Mayor Tony Wu said on AirTalk that he has talked to representatives from eight other San Gabriel Valley cities that are interested in teaming up with West Covina in that effort.

"I think with all this, it's going to lower the cost big time," Wu said. "And don't forget, the health department has the income, meaning application fee, meaning inspection fee, meaning just like building and safety, it can pay for itself."

A recent report from the California State Auditor's Office warned that if West Covina doesn't resolve ongoing structural budget deficits, the city could face bankruptcy, according to the Whittier Daily News.

West Covina could also consider contracting with Pasadena's health department.

WHITTIER

Whittier is considering establishing its own health department or joining neighboring cities, including West Covina, to form a regional health department.

"The county, with this ban, has come in and done a one-size-fits-all, rather than a scalpel to take care of the situation," Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri told ABC7.


Editor's Note: This story has been updated. An earlier version did not include Vernon in the list of cities with their own health department.