The recent closure of outdoor dining has spurred consideration of local health departments. Photo by Brennon Dixson.

Opposition to the recent closure of outdoor dining has driven several Los Angeles area cities to consider abandoning the County’s Health Department in favor of a new agency and Santa Monica officials are open to discussing the idea.

Calls for Santa Monica to break off from the guidance of the Los Angeles County Health Department have increased in recent days as business owners and residents alike express their discontent with the new restrictions imposed by county and state leaders.

Pasadena and Long Beach already have their own departments. This week, Lancaster, Beverly Hills, West Covina, Whittier, and Hawaiian Gardens all discussed forming new departments or made an official statement opposing County operations.

Incoming City Councilmember Phil Brock, who will be sworn in Tuesday, said he has received frantic messages from restaurant owners and concerned residents about the outdoor closures that were instituted after Los Angeles County reported a record in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Despite the surge in case counts, Brock said he takes a stance similar to that of the Beverly Hills City Council and the California Restaurant Association, which is seeking a court order to halt the county’s three-week dine-in ban.

“Their councilmembers’ positions made a lot of sense,” Brock said as he pondered if local control over the city’s health guidelines would be better for residents.

“Whether there is a cost benefit to having our own health department —that can be considered. We could look at a multi-city ‘Westside Health Department,’” Brock said. “As far as the current issue (of closures), I support the efforts of Beverly Hills and the California Restaurant Association to overturn the ruling of the L.A. County Supervisors. I want our residents to be safe, wear a mask, and only stay with family members. I’m just not sure the statistics support this particular closure.”

Oscar de la Torre said he has not heard of any talk about the City of Santa Monica implementing a different plan or strategy than what the county has recommended for the city. “But I hope officials are also weighing the impact of closures on local businesses, workers, students and the mental, emotional and financial stress on their lives.”

Councilmember Kevin McKeown shared Thursday he recognizes the fact that people are a facing a deadly worldwide pandemic that doesn’t respect city borders, which is why Santa Monica’s approach has been to work regionally with neighboring jurisdictions whose residents are in and out of each other’s cities every day.

“We have tremendous concern for the hardships some health safety restrictions impose, but protecting health and lives is an immediate and urgent priority. The numbers are not good,” McKeown said Thursday, adding: “If a proposal to go our own way comes to Council, it will receive respectful discussion, but at this point our policy has been that all us in the County must work together for the common good.”

brennon@smdp.com