A magistrate has struck down Los Angeles County’s prohibition on outdoor dining for lack of scientific evidence justifying the order. In a Dec. 8 decision, LA County Superior Judge James Chalfant overturned the county’s outdoor dining ban, calling it “abuse … unsupported by any findings.” The Nov. 25 order by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health mandated that restaurants cease their outdoor operations, following a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.
In his 73-page assessment, Chalfant remarked that “the Restaurant Closure Order is an abuse of the [Health Department‘s] emergency powers, is not grounded in science, evidence or logic and … [is] unenforceable as a matter of law. The assessment found that the county failed to perform a required risk-benefit analysis about the restriction.
Furthermore, the judge also noted that COVID-19 cases traced back to dining establishments accounted for just 3.1 percent of non-residential outbreaks. The majority of these outbreaks stemmed from fast-food restaurants and were almost exclusively limited to among employees. The county’s closure order “ignores the outdoor nature of the activity, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says carries only ‘moderate risk,’” he added in his assessment.
Chalfant also pointed out that of the 204 locations the county identified as having three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases, restaurants only made up less than ten percent of these hotspots. “The department’s own data [provides] no support for the planned shutdown of outdoor restaurant operations,” the judge commented.
The county’s Board of Supervisors voted to close outdoor dining for at least three weeks, following directives from Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. The judge said Ferrer’s actions were “not based on concrete data.”
Lockdowns arbitrarily enforced – even officials openly flout orders
Chalfant’s ruling appears to be a major victory for restaurants and other businesses in the state of California who have had to overcome numerous issues amid the pandemic, including the lockdown mandates. Local Los Angeles station NBC 4 reported Nov. 24 that the California Restaurant Association filed a suit seeking an injunction to stop the ban, but was unsuccessful. (Related: Judge orders LA County public health officials to prove using science that outdoor dining ban is justified.)
The judge’s decision came amid a viral video by a resident criticizing the shutdown order. Restaurant owner Angela Marsden, who owns Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill at Sherman Oaks expressed her “anger and frustration” over how arbitrary the lockdowns were enforced. Marsden commented that she spent around $80,000 to set up an outdoor dining area and ensure compliance with the county’s health requirements – until the closure order.
However, she saw a production company setting up tents and tables for outdoor dining right across the patio she was supposed to utilize for her business. Crew members were also seen dining under the tents, which Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti approved.
“Everything I own is being taken away from me, and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio. They have not given us money and they have shut us down. We cannot survive; my staff cannot survive,” Marsden lamented.
Even worse would be the fact that county officials themselves openly flout the lockdown mandates they themselves implement. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who voted in support of the outdoor dining ban, was seen dining outside a Santa Monica restaurant hours after casting her votes. FOX 11 reported that the supervisor ate al fresco at Italian joint Il Forno Trattoria located near her residence – which multiple tips confirmed.
When news of Kuehl’s visit to the restaurant surfaced, protesters gathered outside her home to condemn her action. One protester screamed: “If you make a rule, you should follow it yourself!” Incidentally, Marsden was among the protesters who joined the gathering outside the supervisor’s Santa Monica home. (Related: Newsom orders all churches to stop singing, but his PlumpJack winery is open and fully booked for peak summer season.)
California’s new restrictions come amid the U.S. retaining the No. 1 spot in the list of COVID-19 cases. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows the country has a 16.2 million COVID-19 caseload with 6.2 million recoveries and 299,168 deaths.
Pandemic.news gives you the latest news about COVID-related closure orders in the Golden State.