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Judge rejects plea by restaurant group to block L.A. County ban on outdoor dining

Diners eat at a restaurant in Redondo Beach. L.A. County will suspend dining at restaurants starting Wednesday.
Diners eat at a restaurant in Redondo Beach. L.A. County will suspend dining at restaurants, even outdoors, starting Wednesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge declined Tuesday morning to block a ban on outdoor dining from going into effect in Los Angeles County, rejecting an 11th-hour plea by the state’s leading restaurant group.

With outdoor dining across L.A. County set to shut down Wednesday night amid a continuing surge in new cases of the coronavirus, the California Restaurant Assn. filed a lawsuit challenging the ban by county health officials and, as a first step, sought an emergency order from a judge halting the new rules from taking effect.

Attorneys for the association asked Judge James Chalfant to issue an order to stop the closures from going forward unless health officials can provide scientific evidence backing their decision to impose the dining ban. Chalfant denied the request, calling the evidence the association presented “insufficient” to overturn the ban or to require the county to provide the data in his ruling.

The judge also said that in the absence of “solid evidence” from the association showing the dining ban was inappropriate, he would not schedule further hearings to consider whether the ban should be overturned. If new evidence comes to light, Chalfant said the association is free to bring it to him.

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Jot Condie, CEO of the California Restaurant Assn., said he was disappointed the judge didn’t “pump the brakes” on the closure, but added that he was glad the court has left open a way for the case to move forward.

“We are pleased that the court recognized our right to put the county to the test to prove that they have a scientific basis for the shutdown of outdoor dining, and we plan to move forward in requiring the county to offer that proof,” Condie said in written statements following the decision.

County officials declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss pending litigation.

Chefs and restaurateurs react to another shutdown of in-person dining amid L.A. County’s coronavirus surge. “We’re holding on for dear life,” one chef said. “There’s no aid in sight, nothing at all.”

As coronavirus cases spiked, county health officials announced on Sunday that they would be temporarily suspending outdoor dining at restaurants, dealing a blow to Los Angeles’ already struggling restaurant and hospitality industry.

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Under the new rules, which are slated to go into effect Wednesday night, all restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars in the county will be barred from serving customers in outdoor settings for at least three weeks. Indoor service has been prohibited since the spring. In announcing the restrictions, health officials said they were necessary to cut down on places where large groups can gather and spread the virus.

Pasadena announced Monday that the city will allow restaurants to continue outdoor dining despite the county order. The city has its own Department of Public Health that can issue independent orders, but has generally followed the lead of Los Angeles County.

“We will assess our data daily but at this point will not close down restaurants on Wednesday or the near future,” said Lisa Derderian, spokeswoman for the city of Pasadena, following a City Council meeting Monday where the decision was made.

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The city of Long Beach, which also has its own public health department, joined with the county and issued a new health order to prohibit on-site dining beginning Wednesday.

According to the California Restaurant Assn., restaurants can operate just as safely as other industries during the pandemic, and the impact of a ban on food industry workers and owners will be enormous.

“There are thousands of restaurants and many thousands more employees who could be out on the street right before the holiday season,” Condie said in a statement.

L.A. County public health officials on Saturday announced they will issue an order suspending outdoor dining at restaurants amid a surge of new coronavirus cases.

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L.A. County officials had warned last week that the rule would be imposed if the five-day average of new cases hit 4,000, or if hospitalizations topped 1,750 per day.

The five-day average reached 4,097 by Sunday, the Department of Public Health said, and hospitalizations stood at 1,473 on Saturday, an increase of 92% from a month before.

“The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks,” Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director, said in a statement.

City News Service contributed to this report.


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