The California Restaurant Association sued Los Angeles County today in an effort to overturn the county’s plan to suspend in-person dining due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“There are thousands of restaurants and many thousands more employees who could be out on the street right before the holiday season,” Jot Condie, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement announcing the legal challenge.
The county restriction ending in-person dining for three weeks is scheduled to take effect at 10 p.m Wednesday. Attorneys for the Restaurant Association asked a judge Tuesday morning for a restraining order preventing the ban from taking effect, but it request was rejected. The lawsuit, however, will proceed.
Association attorney Dennis Ellis told reporters he was disappointed in the ruling, but said the organization hasn’t seen any evidence that outdoor dining—which was already restricted to half of overall capacity last week—has fueled the coronavirus surge.
“We have not been able to see what the county has to support the notion that outdoor dining at 50% capacity, consistent with what the governor has authorized in his blueprint, is inappropriate and needs to be shut down,” Ellis said.
County and Long Beach health officials have countered that dining out at restaurants and bars—even outdoors—is inherently risky because it involved people in close proximity removing their face coverings.
“It is considered one of the most risky of the environments,” Kelly Colopy, director of the Long Beach health department, said Monday.
The ban in Long Beach and across the county was announced Sunday night when the county’s five-day average of daily new cases topped the threshold of 4,000.
The threshold was established by the county last week, along with a more restrictive tier that would trigger a new stay-at-home order if the daily five-day case average topped 4,500. The county reached that threshold Monday as it had another record-breaking day of new coronavirus cases.
The county Board of Supervisors is set to discuss the new restrictions at its meeting today.
On Monday, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she would speak out against the ban on in-person dining, saying it would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs. She also questioned whether restaurants are the major source of the county’s current virus surge, which has been blamed more on private gatherings.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, however, defended the ban and noted that all five supervisors agreed to it a week ago.
“Outdoor dining is probably more dangerous in terms of contagion than any other kind of business,” Kuehl said.
She said diners at restaurants “sit for hours with no masks on” and are in close proximity to servers and patrons walking by.
In addition to the Restaurant Association court challenge, the owners of Engine Co. 28 restaurant in downtown Los Angeles also filed suit against the county today.
The city of Long Beach, which has its own health department, also plans to bar in-person dining Wednesday night. The Long Beach Restaurant Association blasted the move and plans to hold a news conference Wednesday demanding a meeting with city and county health officials. In a statement, the association accused health officials of attacking an “easy target” to blame for the surge in cases, without any evidence.
The city of Pasadena, which also has its own health department, has not yet issued a ban on in-person dining, with officials saying the situation will be reviewed on a daily basis before any action is taken.
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