Long Beach restaurant owners sound off against city ban on outdoor dining

Hours before a countywide ban was set to shut down all in-person dining, Long Beach restaurant owners held a news conference on Wednesday blasting the decision as a devastating blow to thousands of workers just before the holidays.

“We have to look at our employees and tell them that they don’t have a job,” said Ciaran Gough, owner of The 908 in East Long Beach. “To say we are crestfallen is an understatement.”

The ban, which will last for at least three weeks, will start at 10 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 25 in an effort to slow the recent record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases.

The move has sparked tension between city leaders and local restaurant owners who say the closures will cause many to go out of business.

In a news conference on the rooftop patio at Michael’s in Naples, members of the Long Beach Restaurant Association appealed to the Long Beach City Health Officer to reverse the decision and allow in-person dining.

Long Beach has its own health department and has the option of issuing its own health orders. Their request comes as Pasadena, which also has its own health department, has opted to keep its outdoor dining open, citing lower COVID-19 numbers.

Long Beach, however, has chosen to stick with the county guidelines due to higher case rates, officials have said.

Michael Neufeld, owner of the Gaslamp Restaurant & Bar, cited estimates that roughly 700,000 food industry workers will lose their jobs the day before Thanksgiving.

“Let that sink in,” he said.

Neufeld said the city should provide additional funding to help keep businesses alive.

“With a shutdown and no federal lifeline, we have no choice to look to our city and county,” he said.

Gough said he spent money the restaurant didn’t have on a patio and heat lamps, just to be told to close once again.

“We’re on a teetering point,” he said. “We can’t continue to do this.”

Restaurant owners have accused health officials of unfairly blaming in-person dining for the surge in cases, without any evidence.

Health officials, however, have argued that restaurants pose a unique risk because customers aren’t required to wear face coverings. Officials have pointed to a September study from the Centers for Disease Control that showed cases were twice as likely for those who dined out.

While the Long Beach City Council has limited power when it comes to health orders during the pandemic, the council on Tuesday will hold a study session to discuss the impact.

The controversy has even spilled into the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which was divided this week when two supervisors—Chairwoman Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach—spoke out against the move to close dine-in service.

Meanwhile, the California Restaurant Association has sued Los Angeles County in an effort to overturn the ban.

A judge on Tuesday rejected a restraining order that would have prevented the ban from taking effect, but the lawsuit will proceed.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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