LOS ANGELES – The California Restaurant Association sued Los Angeles County Tuesday in an effort to overturn the county’s plan to end in-person dining due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, but a judge declined to immediately intervene.
“The recent order with no stated scientific basis from L.A. County singles out a specific industry and could jeopardize thousands of jobs,” Jot Condie, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement announcing the legal challenge. “There are thousands of restaurants and many thousands more employees who could be out on the street right before the holiday season.”
The county restriction ending in-person dining for three weeks is scheduled to take effect at 10 p.m Wednesday, Nov. 24. Attorneys for the Restaurant Association asked a judge Tuesday morning for a restraining order preventing the ban from taking effect, but the 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.
The ban 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, Nov. 23.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to discuss the new restrictions at its meeting Tuesday. 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.
UPDATE: The county Board of Supervisors upheld the new restrictions at its meeting Tuesday. Board members Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn asked that outdoor dining be allowed to continue, arguing the ban is too punitive to restaurants in response to a surge that has been largely blamed on private gatherings rather than outdoor dining. But the other three board members disagreed, and voted to allow the ban to take effect as scheduled.