A Los Angeles judge has tentatively ruled that Los Angeles County acted “arbitrarily” and without “rational” justification when it ordered a closure to all outdoor dining at restaurants as a coronavirus-control measure. Superior Court Judge James Chalfant notes, however, that due to the state’s overriding regional stay-at-home order that also includes an in-person dining ban, “outdoor restaurant dining in the county cannot reopen at this time.”
When asked about the order on Monday, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the data on mask-less people at restaurants is “crystal clear at every single level that you look at it.”
“I don’t think there’s any debate that, where people are in close proximity with other people not in their household, not wearing a mask and mingling for extended periods of time talking, singing, sharing — there’s an increased risk of transmission,” said Ferrer.
Judge Chalfant had allowed the county’s order barring patio dining to remain in place last week, but he directed county attorneys to return to court and present the medical evidence about Covid-19 transmission being used to justify the ban.
Last week, Chalfant appeared sympathetic to legal challenges brought against the county’s ban by the California Restaurant Association and the owner of the downtown Engine Co. No. 28 restaurant, attorney Mark Geragos. But Chalfant had said he was reluctant to issue an order that could have a major impact on public health without first reviewing scientific data about the danger of coronavirus transmission at an outdoor dining establishment.
Los Angeles County reported more than 8,000 new COVID-19 cases and another hospitalization record on Monday. That’s after reporting 10,000 daily infections for the first time ever over the weekend. The rise in cases and hospitalizations are contributing to a spike in health care worker infections that is putting additional staffing pressure on medical centers already struggling to manage rising patient numbers.
And the situation will likely worsen in coming weeks, with hospitalization numbers expected to continue rising in response to the recent spike in case numbers.
Meanwhile, some establishments have refused to close. The outdoor patio at Cronies Restaurant Bar & Grill in Agoura Hills was jam-packed for breakfast on Saturday and later hosted a rally in support of its stance.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff, which patrols the area has said it would not enforce any order that impacted a struggling business. In fact, two sheriff’s deputies are seen walking through the — mostly mask-less — crowd at Cronies during the protest.
Angela Marsden, who owns the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in Sherman Oaks, did close her establishment only to find craft service for a TV shoot set up right next to her closed patio. Her video prompted social media outcry and received national attention from outlets such as the New York Times and Fox News.
Bar owner in Los Angeles CA is livid to see that mayor Garcetti has approved an outdoor dining area for a movie company directly across from her outdoor dining area (which was shut down) pic.twitter.com/jkUP2CWg35
— Jake Coco 💙🇺🇸🎶🐻 (@jakecoco) December 4, 2020
The county Department of Public Health imposed the ban on Nov. 25, citing surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The county Board of Supervisors debated the issue on Nov. 24, but voted 3-2 to support the ban, arguing that restaurant patrons spend extended periods of time in close proximity and without wearing masks.
The California Restaurant Association and Geragos, however, challenged the ban in court.
“The recent order with no stated scientific basis from L.A. County singles out a specific industry and could jeopardize thousands of jobs,” Jot Condie, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “There are thousands of restaurants and many thousands more employees who could be out on the street right before the holiday season.”
The county’s restriction on in-person dining is scheduled to remain in effect for three weeks. Prior to the ban on outdoor dining being imposed, the county had already restricted restaurant patios to 50% of capacity.
Complicating the legal challenge against the county ban is the state’s “regional stay-at-home order,” which took effect in Southern California late Sunday night. That order, which bars the majority of public gatherings and restricts capacity at retail businesses, also restricts restaurants to takeout and delivery service.
City News Service contributed to this post.