A restaurant in Hillsboro and another in Cornelius have disregarded recently implemented state restrictions barring dine-in service while not enforcing mask-wearing requirements, officials say.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Washington County officials have both notified Alan Snyder, owner of Spaghetti Western in Hillsboro and Last Lap in Cornelius, that his businesses are operating outside of permitted service guidelines.
But while local law enforcement takes an education-based approach to the restrictions, it's unclear whether the notices alone will compel the restaurants to stop serving people inside. Indoor restaurant service is widely considered one of the easiest ways for coronavirus transmission to take place.
New restrictions, including a tiered risk classification for counties, went into effect Dec. 3.
Since then, Washington County has been in the "extreme risk" category, which prohibits dine-in service at restaurants.
Such restrictions came after a two-week "freeze," which also prohibited dine-in service.
Snyder confirmed to the Pamplin Media Group in a Facebook message that his restaurants remained open to dine-in service despite the rules. He didn't respond to a question about whether he planned to stop after state and local authorities received complaints.
In Snyder's view, he said, his businesses would have to close permanently if he didn't continue dine-in service.
Local authorities say there's not much they can do. Gov. Kate Brown's emergency orders empower them to issue criminal citations, but like many other law enforcement agencies, the Hillsboro Police Department and Washington County Sheriff's Office both say they are focusing on "educating" people about the restrictions, not ticketing or arresting them.
After receiving a complaint on Dec. 4, the Hillsboro Police Department contacted the complainant and provided information about state agencies that could penalize the restaurant.
"At this time we as an agency are taking the path of an educational route and on a case by case basis when servicing Covid related calls for service," said Sgt. Clint Chrz, spokesperson for the department, in an email.
Chrz did not say whether the department planned to contact the restaurant directly or issue a citation.
On Dec. 3, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which provides patrol services in Cornelius, received a complaint about Last Lap, said Sgt. Danny DiPietro, spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office.
A Sheriff's Office corporal and a deputy went to the restaurant and "confirmed the parking lot was full of cars, they could hear loud music in the establishment," DiPietro said.
The officials attempted to speak to the owner of the restaurant inside, but patrons told the officials the owner was not available and questioned why law enforcement was present, DiPietro said.
"They all asked if they were going to be arrested," DiPietro said. "That's when our corporal said, 'Look, we're all about education. We want to educate people.'"
DiPietro said the Sheriff's Office has referred information about the incident to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration but did not issue a citation to the restaurant.
A sign posted on Spaghetti Western's door as of last week read: "Welcome! We are a Constitutionally Compliant Business. We are not infringing on anyone's unalienable rights. By law, we do not follow any of the governor's, mayor's, health department's, or other government agency orders or suggestions pertaining to social distancing or mask wearing. Your health is your responsibility."
Washington County has received "at least seven" complaints about Spaghetti Western being open in violation of COVID-19 restrictions during the "freeze" and the county's extreme risk classification, the county told the Pamplin Media Group.
The county has also received "at least four" similar complaints about Last Lap.
After the county received the third complaint about Spaghetti Western, staff from the county's COVID-19 compliance team visited the restaurant on Nov. 24, but the restaurant was closed at the time, the county said.
Since the visit, the county has "received four more complaints stating that the restaurant is open and allowing seating, on-site consumption and not requiring masks."
County compliance staff visited Last Lap on Dec. 2 and "found the restaurant open and operating and two staff not wearing facial coverings."
County staff left the restaurant a warning letter from the created by the Oregon Health Authority that stated they observed non-compliance, the county said.
The OLCC has also received several complaints about Spaghetti Western, said Bryant Haley, a spokesperson for the agency.
Haley said OLCC inspectors have contacted the owner and provided education about what will happen if prohibited operations continue.
"OLCC Inspectors educate and work with licensees to get their operations into compliance," Haley said. "If licensees do not heed the advice and continue to violate laws, Inspectors will refer the issue to partner agencies, in this case OSHA, for them to follow-up and may also generate a report to evaluate whether the OLCC should also issue sanctions against a licensee."
Haley said the restaurant could be financially penalized, and the OLCC could suspend the business' liquor license.
"In extreme cases, where there is a clear disregard to public safety, the commission has issued immediate suspensions of a business' liquor license," Haley said, adding that licensees have the opportunity to contest such actions.