L.A.’s outdoor dining ban came from the county. Garcetti is still facing heat for it
Mayor Eric Garcetti has long celebrated the Los Angeles restaurant industry, appearing alongside big-name chefs at ribbon-cuttings and promoting neighborhood spots.
Now he finds himself caught up in the anger over the county order to temporarily halt outdoor dining, a directive that followed a surge in coronavirus cases.
The order came from Los Angeles County health officials, not Garcetti. But that hasn’t stopped restaurant owners across the city from taking to social media to vent their frustration and urge the public to contact the mayor to ask him to help overturn the ban.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a stay-at-home order affecting most of California.
The pandemic has become a political land mine for Garcetti and other elected officials as they struggle to navigate allowing businesses to operate at a time of sharply rising coronavirus infections.
In the spring, political leaders faced pressure from business groups to reopen as the infection curve flattened. Officials believed it was safe to allow the reopenings, but a resurgence of the coronavirus followed in June.
Garcetti later said those openings “happened too quickly.”
While the reasons to despair are numerous, there is also a hope fueled by plates of hot food and optimism served up by East Hollywood’s Heleo Leyva.
When it comes to challenging orders handed down by the county, Garcetti can use the bully pulpit but little else. City leaders can issue closure and stay-at-home restrictions that are stricter than those issued by the county or state, but they cannot make the rules more lenient.
Some restaurant owners say they are frustrated with what they contend is Garcetti’s inconsistent messaging on restaurants and the virus.
The owners of Beverly Grove restaurant AOC urged their social media followers to contact the mayor last week after the ban passed. In an interview, co-owner Caroline Styne pointed to comments the mayor made in an interview with KNBC-TV Channel 4 that aired two weeks ago in which he suggested that outdoor dining wasn’t contributing to the spread of the virus.
“I would like the mayor to actually support restaurants,” Styne said. “And say, ‘I don’t believe the spread is coming from restaurants.’”
Garcetti said last week that Los Angeles has been able to reduce infections by listening to public health experts and that he supports temporarily pausing outdoor dining.
Health experts “have made clear that this step is necessary right now in order to save more lives and keep hospitals from overflowing with patients,” Garcetti told The Times. “I have never wavered in following their advice, and I urge every Angeleno to heed it now so that we can keep our communities safe and open more of our businesses again as quickly as possible.”
With coronavirus cases continuing to soar locally and across the state, the county order banning outdoor dining took effect Wednesday night and will remain for at least three weeks.
Two members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors sought unsuccessfully Tuesday to repeal the ban, with supervisors arguing that it’s unclear whether the virus is spreading at outdoor restaurant areas.
The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.
The City Council voted last week to support overturning the ban, a symbolic move because the county’s actions override those of the city.
It’s unclear whether Garcetti will support the resolution approved by the council or send it back unsigned.
Garcetti said he “absolutely” shares the frustration expressed by some members of the Board of Supervisors and City Council about the decision to pause outdoor dining. He also encouraged the public to join him in ordering takeout from restaurants.
Suzanne Tracht, owner and chef of Beverly Boulevard’s Jar restaurant, said the ban will force her to lay off about 10 employees. She questioned why the city isn’t doing more to enforce mask-wearing and predicted that closing outdoor dining will prompt people to hold indoor parties.
“He’s the mayor; he needs to speak out and speak up for us,” Tracht said.
Garcetti also faced pushback from the restaurant industry in 2015 during the city’s efforts to raise the minimum wage.
As coronavirus cases surge during the busy holiday shopping season, uncertainty and unease have set in on Main Streets.
Still, he’s promoted the industry throughout his political career, at points even using it to bolster his own image.
When he was considering a presidential run in 2018, his political team released a video of the mayor meeting with restaurant owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo at their Jon & Vinny’s restaurant on Fairfax Avenue.
More recently, the mayor featured a struggling Silver Lake restaurant owner in his Democratic National Convention address in August and helped publicize the city’s outdoor dining program.
One challenge is that people don’t realize which government agencies are behind the closures, so they instinctively blame Garcetti or Gov. Gavin Newsom, said Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce.
At the same time, restaurants are losing faith after more than eight months of living through the pandemic and enduring various government orders.
“People are just very distrustful at this point,” she said.
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