Coronavirus Impact: Some restaurant owners, cities outraged after Alameda County suspends outdoor dining

ByCornell Barnard, Lauren Martinez KGO logo
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Cities push back after outdoor dining suspended in Alameda Co. under new CA guidelines
Under new state guidelines announced Friday night, restaurants, wineries and bars in Alameda County can no longer offer outdoor dining due to COVID-19. Some cities are pushing back and restaurant owners are expressing their frustration.

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In the East Bay, it's a big step back for reopening plans in Alameda County. Guidance from the state is forcing the county to shut down outdoor dining immediately -- but not everyone is willing to comply.

Octavio Guzman owns La Penca Azul in Alameda. He says keeping his restaurant afloat hasn't been easy, especially in Alameda County where outdoor dining is now off the table, suspended less than a month after it was allowed to reopen.

"It's very confusing, things change overnight," said Guzman.

Outdoor dining was permitted under Alameda County health guidelines, but the county announced the state's tightening of restrictions Friday night. Restaurants, wineries and bars can only offer drive-thru, pick up or delivery under the state order.

Under the county's reopening plan, outdoor dining, along with retail businesses and summer schools, were allowed to reopen on June 29.

The state's guidance prohibits outdoor dining in non-variance counties, which includes Alameda County.

Outdoor dining was still happening at Ole's Waffle Shop in Alameda but Robin Wright and her friends who work in food service weren't happy.

"If we're cutting back on outdoor dining, servers and bartenders may have to go back trying to depend on the government for unemployment," said Wright.

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Ken Monize had just opened his outdoor patio but is now removing most of the tables.

"Its absolute chaos, I'm not sure what we're going to do, but I can tell you our leadership here is incompetent," said Monize.

Ken Monize is thinking about his next move possibly out of the county. "I may relocate, I may run for mayor, but we need a change," Monize said.

WATCH: Alameda restaurant owners express frustration after county orders suspension of outdoor dining

Under new state guidelines announced Friday night, residents in Alameda County can no longer dine outdoors due to COVID-19.

Other cities are choosing to defy the order.

The city of Hayward issued this statement, "The City of Hayward intends to go through with the street closure event as planned and will support local restaurants who choose to participate- whether by providing outdoor dining service or just takeout service."

Livermore and Dublin won't remove outdoor dining either.

Some city leaders like John Marchand, mayor of Livermore, says that is not a legal order and are proceeding with the street closures to allow outdoor dining.

"To get a press release, not an official order, but a press release late Friday night is really inconsistent and very unfair to the businesses that really made a significant investment," Marchand said.

"We had planned to close First Street, we're not going to change those plans because those plans, as I understand it, are still consistent with the legal orders that are in place," Marchand added.

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Sapporo Japanese Cuisine is a family-owned business in Hayward and the planned event to shut down the streets allow them to put tables out for their customers.

Nicholas Yoo, the manager, said customers have been calling and messaging them confused on whether they're open for outdoor dining or not.

"Very last minute, very unorganized, and just caused a lot of confusion," Yoo said.

Yoo said three city council members visited to personally show their support.

"Mark Salinas did come and other members of the city as well and they dropped off different gifts and just gave us verbal support. It was great to see that little affirmation from the council members themselves and they physically came in and they walked by and gave their personal support," Yoo said.

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Around the corner on B Street, owner Michale LeBlanc of Playt Restaurant and Bar said he was so confused, he didn't know if he'd even open after weeks of planning.

"I did not know if I was going to open up today until maybe 30 to 40 minutes beforehand," LeBlanc said.

He brought in staff and bought extra food.

"We bought food, we bought extra food I kinda changed the menu up just a little bit. I got umbrellas, I got umbrella stands I got trash cans, I got plates," LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said he's not upset because the county and everyone is just looking out for everyone's health, but he wants better communication.

"I'm hoping that the city, state, county - they all get together based on what happened this weekend and we have some clear guidelines as we go into next weekend," LeBlanc said.

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An Alameda County spokesperson said in a statement Saturday:

"We are moving toward obtaining a variance from the state and a letter of support for a variance is on the agenda for next Tuesday's supervisors meeting."

As of Saturday afternoon, Alameda County had 7,725 positive cases of COVID-19, the highest number of cases of any county in the Bay Area.

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