May 26 Board of Supervisors meeting

The only officials who attend in person are County Supervisor Chris Lopez (center, and current chair of the board); County Counsel Les Girard (left); and County Administrative Officer Charles McKee (right). The other supervisors attend meetings via Zoom, projected on a screen in back. 

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 today, May 26, to formally ask the governor to approve the next stage of reopening local businesses. 

Technically, it's called the "Monterey County variance attestation," the county's 140-page petition, prepared by Health Officer Edward Moreno, explaining how the county has met criteria required by the state. In an accompanying letter, the supervisors wrote, "The Board of Supervisors of the county of Monterey is pleased to provide you with its strong and unanimous support for the attestation."

After the vote around noon today, County Administrative Officer Charles McKee expected the package to be submitted to the state within a few hours. Turnaround time is fast, McKee says; once Moreno has a signed variance in hand, he'll issue a new, less restrictive shelter-in-place order that incorporates the reopening guidelines laid out by the state. (State guidelines, industry by industry, are viewable online.) 

If granted, the variance will allow Monterey County to move from its current stage 2 into a more advanced level of stage 2. As the state adjusts its criteria and guidelines, what's allowed remains a moving target. In the middle of today's meeting, for instance, County Counsel Les Girard said, "The governor has just issued guidance that hair salons and barbershops will open with a variance."

That means, if granted, Monterey County's variance would allow for reopening of hair salons and barbershops; childcare; janitorial and cleaning services for commercial and residential; dine-in restaurants (with modifications); schools (with modifications); pet grooming and dog walking services; car washes; outdoor museums and galleries; and curbside pickup for libraries.

Another moving target is that yesterday, the governor adjusted what's allowed to operate under the existing stage 2, which has allowed Monterey County retailers to reopen for curbside pickup in recent weeks. That means effective today, destination retail and in-person religious services are allowed. (Malls and stores can be open for in-person shopping, variance or no variance.) 

To operate, businesses will be required to maintain physical distancing protocols. The county's template for those protocols is available here

The county's existing face-covering requirement remains in effect, as does the existing shelter-in-place order, which is set to expire on May 31, unless it's extended, terminated or amended. If the variance is granted, a newer, less restrictive shelter-in-place order will replace it. 

The supervisors praised Moreno and Health Department staff for advancing a safe reopening that strikes a balance between containing the coronavirus and allowing the economy to reopen, which brings its own many health benefits (not to mention economic, social and emotional benefits). They also urged the public to continue to comply, and use personal responsibility when it comes to hand-washing, physical distancing and face coverings in public spaces. 

"I think we did a great job of approaching this deliberately and cautiously," Supervisor John Phillips said. "It’s important that as we open up like this that we get the cooperation of people in the county, and people still wear face masks."

Supervisor Luis Alejo acknowledged large crowds on the Monterey Peninsula and in Big Sur over the holiday weekend. "It’s not only our own residents," he said. "We are a destination. That’s going to continue to be a concern. 

"We are all in this together, but if we’re not following best practices…we don’t want to be in a situation where we have to re-close due to a large spike." 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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