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Several LA Cities Consider Abandoning County Health Department Over Dining Ban

Beverly Hills, Whittier, and Lancaster among municipalities that think the county health order is an overreach

Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer speaks at a press conference on COVID-19, March 6, 2020 .
Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer speaks at a press conference on COVID-19, March 6, 2020 
Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

As LA County’s Department of Health mandates stricter shut downs for restaurants, like outdoor dining and evening curfews, municipalities from around the county are threatening to break away from its jurisdiction. Just this week, Lancaster, West Covina, Beverly Hills, Whittier, and Hawaiian Gardens either announced they would create their own health departments, or at least stated their displeasure in being roped into the countywide measures, reports ABC 7. This despite LA County hitting a record 7,567 new cases on December 1, with 2,439 hospitalizations.

Last night, Beverly Hills’s city council unanimously opposed the outdoor dining ban, though they plan to follow the order for now, according to the LA Times. Last week, when county officials affirmed the health department’s order to shut down outdoor dining, the city of Pasadena, which has its own health department, announced that it would not follow the LA County order.

City of LA mayor Eric Garcetti, whose al fresco dining program helped establish outdoor dining operations across Los Angeles, received criticism from restaurant operators, including AOC’s Caroline Styne, who told the LA Times, “I would like the mayor to actually support restaurants and say I don’t believe the spread [of COVID-19] is coming from restaurants.” Jar chef and owner Suzanne Tracht also said the mayor needed to speak up for restaurants. The outdoor dining shut down has forced Tracht to lay off 10 employees. Garcetti, meanwhile, said he supported the temporary cessation of outdoor dining by the county.

LA County’s local government structure looks increasingly fragile as various cities within its borders opt out of what they perceive as an overreach. Lisa Dererian, Pasadena’s public information officer, noted that cities used to have their own health departments, but decided to use the county system beginning in the 1920s due to difficulties in operating such departments. The pandemic has opened up fissures in the nation’s most populous county (over 10 million residents), which some might equate with the city of Los Angeles. However, LA County is made up of 88 incorporated cities, many with their own governments, plus nearly a hundred unincorporated areas. Some local politicians, like Whittier mayor Joe Vinaitieri, say the county’s health order is a “one size fits all” approach while others, like Beverly Hills councilmember Lili Bosse, are considering a separation from LA County’s health department altogether.

Los Feliz Ledger says the Lancaster city council will meet this week to consider a “vote of no confidence” in county health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer and create its own health department; Lancaster consistently had some of the highest case rates and total cases according to county data. If cities decide to opt out of LA County’s health department, creating their own would inevitably take time and money, and require state regulatory approval.

Bosse told ABC that breaking away and creating a Beverly Hills health department would be a better option for the future: “I think it goes beyond just the health pandemic that we’re in, and I believe that’s something that will be for our children or grandchildren and generations to come.”