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Amid partial reopening, hodgepodge of Bay Area orders leaves residents dazed, confused

Jason Tripp in his distillery in Pacifica, California
Jason Tripp in his distillery in Pacifica, south of San Francisco, on Wednesday. Tripp has been shut down the last week, even as he tries to sell booze and hand sanitizer.
(Susanne Rust / Los Angeles Times)

Jason Tripp owns a distillery in this once-surfer-friendly town in San Mateo County. Since mid-March, he’d been selling craft vodka, gin and rum, as well as a commodity in high demand — hand sanitizer — to local patrons from his storefront.

All that ended May 5, when the city’s police chief emailed Tripp and told him to shut it down.

Tripp has since been vocally portraying himself as a victim of geographically arbitrary government edicts, trying to get his story out to anyone who will listen. He sent a message about his situation to the Los Angeles Times’ tip line, and San Francisco’s ABC affiliate, KGO-TV, aired a story about his plight last week.

“Why is it OK to go into a store and buy alcohol but not OK to stay outside and buy from a storefront?” he said Wednesday, speaking from inside his store.

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Tripp’s situation, and that of other Bay Area business owners, was not resolved Wednesday when San Mateo and other Bay Area counties announced their intent to relax several orders in an attempt to more closely align with the state. Tripp is unsure whether the new order means he can reopen.

A county spokesman didn’t help clarify the matter.

“I think we’ll hold off answering any specifics about the new order until it’s announced later this week,” said Preston Merchant, county spokesman.

In mid-March, seven Bay Area counties worked in unison to submit some of the nation’s first and most restrictive orders, designed to protect residents from the fast-spreading coronavirus. The orders varied little from county to county, the only material differences being geographical boundaries and names.

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Over the last few weeks, however, that uniformity has been stirred into a mishmash of geographic interpretations, orders and enforcement decisions — from the county level down to the city and even block level.

For instance, on April 27, the Bay Area county health officials announced together that they were extending the stay-at-home orders until the end of May.

However, it soon became clear that each health officer and county counsel interpreted the orders and extensions differently.

For instance, in Santa Clara County, officials decided residents could play tennis with immediate household members. But across the narrow, now-dry San Francisquito Creek, residents in San Mateo County were forbidden.

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“We spent hours discussing it, far more time than the subject was worth,” Dr. Scott Morrow, the San Mateo County public health officer, said in an email. “While I never thought tennis to be a particularly high-risk activity, the group of Bay Area Health Officers decided to go with a rubric disallowing sports that share equipment. That would mean no tennis.”

Morrow has since lifted that restriction, as long as certain thresholds are met (only household members may play together, for example, and singles from different households may not share balls).

Morrow also restricted San Mateo County residents from traveling more than 10 miles for recreation — a limit not imposed elsewhere. He said that was largely to prevent people from flocking to the beach in risky numbers, and to provide law enforcement with a concrete metric for enforcing the orders.

“The county’s coastside area is a draw for tens of thousands of people, many coming from great distances,” said Morrow, who owns a beachside house in Half Moon Bay. “The beaches can be a significant problem with uncontrollable gatherings as we have seen in other areas of the state and country.”

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According to data from the San Mateo County sheriff, at least 370 written warnings, 1,088 verbal warnings and 604 parking citations were issued along the county’s coast between April 20 and May 3 for violations of the county’s stay-at-home order. None were logged between May 4 and May 11, the most recent period on the sheriff’s website.

The May 5 email to Tripp from Pacifica Police Chief William Glasgo was not included in those warnings.

The Tripp Distillery is an award-winning craft distillery in a converted garage down an alley off Palmetto Avenue.

In every way, it looks like the product of a 48-year-old man who figured out how to turn a hobby into a sustainable income — more a “way of life” than an office setting for a future IPO.

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Boxes and equipment are strewn about, the floor is sticky, and graffiti and cocktail mix recipes populate the wall space.

On Wednesday morning, a little bedraggled after a “long night of quality control,” Tripp explained he’d had to lay off four part-time employees this past week; his biggest buyers, including the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, have either shut down or, in the case of restaurants, can’t sell his product in-house and therefore have stopped buying.

And now that he can’t sell from his storefront — a prohibition he finds confusing and confounding, considering customers can enter a BevMo or a Safeway store and buy alcohol from the shelf — he has no money to pay anyone.

He pointed to a tweet from a distillery in Half Moon Bay that is still operating — selling craft spirits and hand sanitizer to local customers.

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A call to the Half Moon Bay Distillery was not returned. However, the company’s outgoing message and its website indicate storefront sales are continuing.

Daniel Steidle, a spokesman for the Pacifica Police Department, confirmed the city has interpreted county orders to prohibit distilleries and breweries from storefront sales — unless they include restaurants.

“One of the differences between our brewery and distillery [order] from some of the others in the county is that they do not operate as a restaurant,” Steidle said in an email.

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According to the Half Moon Bay Distillery website, liquor is the only product sold.

Confusion also reigns in the dog grooming universe. Many grooming services have been shut down per Bay Area county orders, but mobile pet grooming vans are regularly seen in the region.

Jimmy Yeung, the owner of Wagmore Mobile Pet Spa, said he’d seen those other vans. He, however, has remained parked in a lot in Santa Clara County’s Mountain View, attending to clients on site.

“I know the orders say dog grooming is not essential,” he said, “but because it affects their health, how can it not be?”

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He said he doesn’t think San Mateo County’s relaxation of orders, which will allow dog grooming, will affect him much — despite most of his clients residing in the county, in Menlo Park and Atherton.

He said that because Santa Clara County is still restricting grooming, it’s possible he could get caught in some jurisdictional confusion crossing county lines to groom.

“It’s too risky,” he said.

In any case, although he’s currently operating in a “gray area,” he’s got more business than he’s ever had.

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“I’ve been turning jobs down,” he said. “There’s just too much.”


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