Some Morgan Hill restaurant owners were surprised and confused by the sudden appearance in town Friday night of state officers who said they were there to enforce the governor’s COVID-19 regulations.
Officers from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) visited numerous restaurants the night of July 3, according to city officials and restaurant owners. The officers entered the restaurants and told staff or owners that they were enforcing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 order, which the officers said prohibited outdoor dining in Santa Clara County.
But those targeted by the enforcement and local legal authorities—including Morgan Hill’s city attorney and county public health officer—have said the governor’s order states the opposite of what the ABC officers claimed.
Mark Turner, CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, said restaurants in the City of Gilroy were also shut down or threatened with shutdown by the ABC officers.
Dan McCranie, owner of Ladera Grill, said at a July 4 press conference that his restaurant was among those targeted by two ABC officers the night of July 3. McCranie said the officers entered the restaurant about 8:30pm and told his manager that Ladera Grill must shut down operations because they were in violation of state orders regarding outdoor dining. The manager was threatened with citations for restaurant staff, the owner and even customers if they reopened at a later date, McCranie said.
But McCranie said Ladera Grill is in compliance with all state and county regulations on business and public gatherings under COVID-19. He said the restaurant will remain open as planned for outdoor dining and takeout orders until he sees a directive specifically prohibiting such business.
“This is a combination of outrageous, unprofessional and, I think, mendacious,” McCranie said of the ABC officers’ actions. He noted that the restaurant has been open for outdoor dining the entire month of June, in accordance with county and state public health guidelines.
Ladera Grill Manager Chris Provini added that the officers said they could have cited the restaurant and customers immediately the night of July 3, but decided “out of generosity” to delay such enforcement.
The ABC office did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Mayor Rich Constantine, City Manager Christina Turner and City Attorney Don Larkin also spoke at the July 4 press conference outside Ladera Grill. The city officials said they were as surprised by the ABC officers’ visit to town as the restaurant owners were. They said they have been on the line with state and county officials to gain some clarification as soon as possible on whether the state is allowing outdoor dining in South Santa Clara County.
Constantine said while it is “customary” for an outside law enforcement agency to notify local police when entering a jurisdiction for enforcement, ABC did not contact Morgan Hill Police. Constantine said he spoke to Sheriff Laurie Smith, who said she did not have advance knowledge of the ABC visit.
“We were all caught off guard,” Constantine said. “We understand that COVID-19 is a very dangerous virus, and we as a city have been in compliance, as well as our businesses.”
City Manager Christina Turner added that city staff have been working closely with downtown restaurants since the pandemic started. “We have been helping them meet all the protocols” for outdoor dining, social distancing and hygiene, Turner said.
Restaurants in Gilroy were also “approached and told to close” by ABC officers the night of July 3, said Gilroy Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Turner. He added that one of the restaurants’ staff was told that if they reopen, they would be subject to criminal citation.
“We feel this is harassment of South County businesses,” Mark Turner said. “Businesses are suffering as it is, and they’re in compliance with the governor’s orders. We are totally outraged by this incident.”
Morgan Hill Police Chief Shane Palsgrove confirmed July 4 that ABC did not notify MHPD that they would be in town. He has since spoken to an ABC district supervisor, who said the ABC office received its orders to conduct the July 3 enforcement too late to notify the local police. The ABC supervisor also said it was acting on the belief that Santa Clara County does not have the state’s approval to allow outdoor dining at restaurants.
Palsgrove added that it appears restaurants that hold an alcohol license from the ABC were the ones contacted July 3.
Morgan Hill City Attorney noted that the ABC officers the night of July 3 showed restaurant managers a printed copy of the governor’s July 1 COVID-19 order. This document, Larkin noted, specifies that businesses may continue outdoor operations as long as social distancing is enforced.
Earlier this week, Newsom placed Santa Clara County on a “watch list” of 19 counties with surging coronavirus cases that might be required to roll back recent business reopening. The document that ABC officers presented to local restaurant staff July 3 refers to this list of counties. It states that ABC-licensed businesses must discontinue outdoor operations unless they are operating a restaurant on site.
McCranie said July 4 that more than 80 percent of Ladera Grill’s sales come from food, as opposed to alcohol. City officials said other Morgan Hill restaurants that offer outdoor dining have also been in compliance with the outdoor operations provision.
On July 1, Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said Santa Clara County was still not allowing any of the riskier activities cited by Newsom—such as indoor dining and movie theaters—that might have to shut down.
The county public health office said in a statement that they were not notified in advance of the July 3 ABC operation in South County. “The county urges everyone to continue to follow local and state health orders, and to avoid social gatherings and fireworks to prevent injuries and illness this Fourth of July weekend,” said county staff.