Newport Beach Restaurants Will Not Face Fines Further Enforcing Masks And Distancing

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The morning clientele at Rose Bakery in Corona Del Mar on May 23, 2020.

Newport Beach will not be upping enforcement of social distancing and employee mask wearing at local restaurants through citations.

Restaurants in Orange County were given the go ahead to resume some limited indoor operations on Tuesday after the county was moved to the second tier on the state’s coronavirus reopening plans. Epidemiologists have pointed to indoor dining as a key driver of a spike in coronavirus outbreaks that led to another shutdown in Orange County in July.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to table indefinitely an emergency ordinance increasing enforcement of distancing of tables, mask wearing for employees and restrictions on walk-up bars at local dining establishments. Violations would have resulted in citations of up to $500 depending on the number of breaches that occurred.

Councilwoman Joy Brenner had asked for the ordinance to be considered after receiving a letter from former city council members and mayors in August requesting the measures.

“Now that we’ve moved into a different tier, things have changed a lot and so it’s kind of hard to look at what they were asking in terms of where we are today,” Brenner said.

Seimone Jurjis, the city’s community development director, said the Orange County Public Health Department and the state are already doing inspections of restaurants and that the city itself warns establishments not following the orders.

“When we get complaints, we follow up. We give warnings. We talk to the establishment and with our emergency use permit program we have conditions that we enforce. We’ve actually stated conditions that you shall abide by the state guidelines,” Jurjis said.

Since June county health inspectors have visited about 2,000 locations – out of 10,000 restaurants with health permits as reported by the Voice of OC back in August. About 40% of those sites checked were not in covid compliance, according to the County of Orange. The county has been short on health inspectors for the last five years.

Newport Beach has had over 1,000 cumulative cases of the coronavirus since March 27. Daily case counts have remained under 10 since the end of August, according to the city.

Mayor Will O’Neill said that a business had its outdoor permit revoked this past weekend for not following the orders but did not name the establishment.

“At a minimum we should be able to expect our establishments, especially the ones that we’ve been helping dramatically to bridge forward on these outdoor permits, to take the responsibility of making sure that they’re not putting people into (high risk) situations,” O’Neill said. “We have the enforcement. We’ve started the enforcement.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.