Mill Valley calls for reversal of outdoor dining ban under state's COVID-19 order

The Mill Valley City Council sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a letter on Tuesday asking for him to remove the ban on outdoor dining. 

Some restaurant owners question why outdoor dining is legal in public parks around the city, but not allowed at restaurants. 

"People now do takeout. They go to different places. Eating outside where they use picnic tables which are not getting cleaned after they leave," said Peter Schumacher, the owner of Bungalow 44.

Schumacher said he can only provide takeout and delivery under California's COVID-19 restrictions, even though he has spent thousands of dollars meeting health standards for outdoor dining. 

He purchased an outdoor dining tent that costs around $11,000 a month. "You can see where the finances don't work out anymore," he said. 

Economic hardships like Schumacher's prompted the Mill Valley City Council to send Newsom a letter asking that he and county health officials lift the ban on outdoor dining at restaurants. 

"All policy has tradeoffs. This is one that is devasting to a huge section of our businesses," said Mill Valley mayor Sashi McEntee.

McEntee said the request to Newsom is not intended for Mill Valley only, but for the entire Bay Area, if not all of California. The letter comes as the state is in the middle of a surge in COVID cases. 

"Outdoor dining has never proven to be a contributor. There is no evidence of that," said the mayor.

Many health experts say otherwise. The said people congregating, eating, and talking without masks is risky, especially right now.

At Playa, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Mill Valley, the owner, Manfred Mendez, said restaurants could separate tables even farther if necessary.

Despite the current situation for restaurants, he said he's grateful for the support.  "When you have your community, your mayor backing you up, it creates hope," he said. 

Schumacher said he is eager to resume outdoor dining. "My staff can't wait any longer. If we wait too long there won't be any restaurant left. I can guarantee that," he said. 

The governor's office has not responded to the letters sent by the Mill Valley City Council, but Marin County public health officials said they support the current restrictions.