County establishes zero-cost permits for businesses to expand outdoor services

A local eatery in Valley Springs has extended its outdoor patio area to increase business amid economic setbacks due to COVID-19 indoor-dining restrictions. The county passed a resolution Tuesday to ensure that businesses expand outdoor operations safely.

Update: Business owners can find outdoor operations permit applications on the county's website.

A resolution to allow Calaveras County businesses to apply for zero-cost permits to expand their operations outdoors was adopted by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on a unanimous vote Tuesday.

In response to novel coronavirus cases spiking statewide in early July and growing evidence that COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order July 14 to restrict a number of businesses to only outdoor services. That included restaurants, wineries, bars and movie theaters, among others.

The goal of the county’s resolution is to provide economic relief to businesses that have been impacted by social distancing requirements and to help ensure that the relief meets basic health and safety requirements. It was developed over the course of a week to follow suit with the new state mandate.

Any new outdoor areas allowed under its provisions are temporary and would have to be taken down within 30 days after local and state COVID-19 emergency declarations have been terminated.

Businesses have to submit a site plan for the new outdoor area and an indemnification agreement to the Calaveras County Planning Department.

Planning Director Peter Maurer told the board that permits could be issued the same day applications are submitted, depending on the details of the site plan.

“If it’s just using existing space and not going into the public right-of-way, not installing tents or canopies – it’s just looking at the site plan,” Maurer said.

If the site plan encroaches the public right-of-way, it would require written approval from the County Public Works Department. If it includes a shade structure other than an umbrella table, it requires a sign-off from the County Building Department.

Chief Building Official Doug Oliver said he will be in the community over the next week educating owners on the resolution and ensuring they are in compliance with County Code.

“Our process is simple,” Oliver told the board. “Get the application, fill it out, create a permit, set up an inspection, look at the site. Do you have exits blocked, do you have (Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking spots) covered up, fire access lanes blocked, any obstacles that are going to prevent first responders from getting in and helping? … Then we start working with them – can you shift this tent over a foot, can you put in a small wooden ramp temporarily over here that meets building requirements …”

The resolution does not allow new uses, development, capacity, or businesses that were not already lawfully permitted.

The county would be named as an insurer in cases where the area of business is expanding into the public right-of-way.

County Administrative Officer Al Alt suggested that Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding be used to cover both the costs incurred in county staff time for permitting and inspection as well as those levied on businesses to comply with the resolution, such as insurance increases.

Calaveras County received $5.49 million of a $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package made available by the CARES Act, which passed in March of 2020.

About $902,000 of the funding is allocated to the county’s General Fund.

Aside from asking a few questions about cost and permitting logistics, the board was overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution and thanked county staff for drafting it in a timely manner.

Other business

Sheriff Rick DiBasilio addressed his reasons to the board for “encouraging” – but not enforcing – residents to wear masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

He said it would be a violation of constitutional rights to actively cite or arrest people for not wearing a mask.

“When we see people out in the public that choose not to wear a face mask, and there are people with a face mask, and you see and hear the arguments that ‘well, you’re not being respectful of me because you’re not wearing a mask,’” DiBasilio said. “But the flip side of that is that you’re not being respectful of my liberties if I don’t want to wear a mask.”

That said, DiBasilio said he recognizes that wearing a face covering can help slow down COVID-19 transmission.

DiBasilio added that he and his staff are wearing masks in public places and encouraging residents to wear one, especially if businesses have a “no mask, no service” policy.

“It does help, but I want people to understand that the biggest issue we have going on right now is the lack of respect,” he said.

District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway responded that the word, “encourage” does not go far enough.

“I would’ve liked to have seen you go a step further,” Callaway said. “I want the community to wear masks. This is a health issue, and I want your office and the Sheriff to be part of the collective team to keep us safe.”

In response, DiBasilio said, “‘Strongly encourage’ it is about as far as I will go, Ms. Callaway. I will not tell people they ‘shall.’ I believe that’s a violation of their constitutional rights, and I won't do that. I’m sorry.”

District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli and District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills said they agreed that enforcing the mask law would violate constitutional amendments.

“We give the government certain rights and privileges, but we maintain certain rights and privileges as well,” Mills said.

District 5 Supervisor Ben Stopper said he agreed with DiBasilio, adding, “The spirit of the law and the letter of the law is something that’s very subjective, and I think you demonstrated your position very well.”

District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi said he agreed that the county shouldn’t be making criminals out of citizens over face coverings.

“We have to work together as a common good,” he said. “I wear my mask because I respect you and you wear your mask because you respect me.”

County Health Officer Dean Kelaita, MD, chimed in as well.

“Let me leave you with one thought on masks,” Kelaita said.

There’s a large body of scientific data that show face coverings are effective in reducing viral transmission, he said.

“A mask by itself won’t take the place of physical distancing and hand washing and all of the other things we recommend people do, but a mask in conjunction with those things is a highly effective intervention in reducing transmission of this disease in our community during a pandemic the likes of which we’ve not seen in our lifetimes.”

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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