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State Allows Indoor Dining in San Francisco, But City Officials Keep Mum on Reopening Timeline

A new, color-coded system is intended to increase transparency, but its launch Friday took restaurant owners by surprise

California Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a new, color-coded system to allow Californians to see the reopening status of their counties, Friday, with a brand-new website lists what’s supposedly open where. One thing Newsom didn’t say — but probably should have — is that reopening is still up to county officials, so though the map said that as of Monday, August 31, indoor dining is “open” in San Francisco, that’s actually not the case.

Restaurants in Napa County, on the other hand, are allowed to reopen their dining rooms, at limited capacity, starting today.

The website Newsom touted can be found here, with a search function that allows users to filter, by business sector, what’s allowed to be open on a county-by-county basis. There were two aspects of this search function that confused San Francisco’s restaurant industry on Friday: First, that under the new, by-color system to indicate COVID-19 threat, San Francisco county has the green light to reopen indoor dining. Second, that according to the website, dine-in restaurants “are open,” not “allowed to be” or some variation therewith.

If you cast your mind back to the halcyon days of early July, you might recall that restaurants, chafing under the challenges of takeout, delivery, and outdoor service only, were moving full speed ahead with the county plan to reopen dining rooms on July 13. That train was derailed as cases of the novel coronavirus spiked in the Bay Area, and by July 6, the word was out — indoor dining was placed on “indefinite pause” for all of SF. That voluntary shutdown was made mandatory about ten days later, when SF was added to the state’s COVID-19 watchlist. And there we’ve remained for the last six or so weeks.

For restauranteurs eager to open dining rooms, California’s new COVID-19 website is a source of “false hope,” GGRA executive director Laurie Thomas says.

As you can imagine, then, the state website was confounding to area residents and restauranteurs. Just an hour before, SF Mayor London Breed had hosted a press conference to announce that some personal services would be allowed to reopen outdoors, and didn’t even mention restaurants. Folks like former KCBS sports anchor Joe Salvatore tweeted out the website’s reopening news.

Text messages were madly exchanged between reporters, restaurateurs, and political power players, with Laurie Thomas, the executive director of San Francisco restaurant lobby the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, telling the SF Chronicle that many restaurateurs assumed that indoor dining could resume immediately.

They were wrong, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from how city officials responded. Eater SF emailed the county Department of Emergency Management for details on any indoor dining timelines, but as of Monday still has not received a response. Other folks who tweeted at the agency were more successful, and were reminded that stricter requirements prevail in California, so as long as SF officials say dining rooms are closed, they’ll be closed, no matter what the state website says.

Late Friday, Breed’s office released a statement saying that:

San Francisco is currently reviewing the State’s new tiered system for reopening and how it impacts the City’s future reopening. However, any changes in San Francisco are still subject to the decisions of our local public health officials.

Nothing has changed today here in San Francisco based on the State’s new system. As I said earlier today, any changes to the State watch list will be reviewed by public health officials quickly, and we will return early next week with any impacts on how we move forward.

Speaking with the Chron, Thomas expressed frustration at how the state and city handled the reopening-that-wasn’t news, saying that the state website, as it stands, “is going to create false hope,” and officials at the state and local level “all need to work much closer as a team.”

San Francisco is only one of two Bay Area counties that could, if they wanted to, reopen indoor dining. Both SF and Napa are coded “red” under the new state system, which means that while bars without food still remain closed for business, dining rooms can open at 25 percent capacity.

But while SF remains shut down, Napa will reopen dining rooms today, officials say, though it seems like they, too, got little warning about their revised status. “It’s a good surprise and its movement in the right direction,” Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza tells ABC 7, confirming that Napa dining rooms will be open at 25 percent capacity, with a cap of 100 people, starting today.