Frustration and confusion in Alameda Co. over what is and isn't allowed

Alameda County is clearing up confusion over what is and is not allowed after it said it needs to apply for a variance attestation from the state.

Alameda County said under recently changed state rules, it needs a variance, or special permission, for outdoor dining to continue. Outdoor dining had already been allowed for several weeks. Alameda County sent out a notice late Friday, which said it cannot continue outdoor dining without a variance, causing confusion for many restaurant owners and cities.

Oakland, Hayward, Dublin, and Livermore were among the cities that pushed back on the closure of outdoor dining over the weekend.

“We had confusion over, is this a state order or is it guidance?” Dublin Mayor David Haubert said. “The city manager made the decision not to enforce something she wasn't clear about.”

Juan Alcaraz, owner of French Dips in Livermore, said he will keep offering outdoor dining until he is told otherwise by the city officials.

“Our weekend was horrible,” Alcaraz said. “We went so down on sales. We got a lot of people calling and asking if we were open.”

Without the variance, places like Fairyland and the Oakland Zoo are not allowed to reopen. Alameda County is the only county that did not apply for a variance from the state in May.

“We felt that was in the best interest of protecting the health of our residents,” Dr. Nicholas Moss, Interim Alameda County Health Officer, said. “Our overall approach will be to continue to move slowly while we’re seeing the kinds of case numbers and hospitalizations.”

Wilma Chan, supervisor for District 3, said the county did not feel it was reasonable to ask for a variance with rising COVID-19 cases in the last several weeks. The Board of Supervisors is set to discuss applying for a variance at a meeting on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Alameda County was placed on the state’s watch list. If it stays on the watch list for three consecutive days, it will be subject to new rules from the state.

“There's somewhat of a contradiction in our minds between applying for a variance to open wider, at the same time while you're being monitored because we have more than 100 cases per 100,000,” Chan said.

Chan said the county wants cities to follow the guidelines because future funding for COVID-19 is tied to compliance with orders.

“The big picture is, we remain on pause,” Dr. Moss added. “We don’t plan on open more broadly at this time.”

Haubert said Dublin is open to receiving more information and getting clarification. He said if the city has misinterpreted the rules, they will make changes to outdoor dining. He supports the county seeking a variance from the state.