Dozens urge for breweries and indoor malls to reopen, $10M grant could help for now

FILE PHOTO A couple shares a beer at Wolf Creek Restaurant and Brewing Co. to celebrate New Year's Eve on Saturday. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Dozens of residents urged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to consider reopening malls and breweries, but Public Health officials said it’s not yet time, even though California’s guidelines allow for resuming limited operations. 

The comments come from a first-ever discussion among county officials and the public to increase dialogue around COVID-19 and the county’s health officer order at Board of Supervisors meetings held on Tuesdays. 

Most of the feedback supported the reopening of indoor shopping malls, bars, breweries and card rooms — businesses that have remained closed for months, despite brief moments where they were allowed to reopen as state and county guidelines shifted. 

“As someone who has personally worked to ensure the safety of our team and customers, I can attest that we are 100% committed to reopening in compliance with all local and state-mandated guidelines and CDC-recommended protocols,” said county resident Ian Carter in a written comment asking for the reopening of indoor malls. “We are asking for the same rights that your leadership has granted numerous other businesses operating in functionally equivalent venues. Please give us the opportunity to save our businesses and the many thousands of jobs that come along with our operation.” 

While the vast majority of the 50 comments received favored resuming operations for these sectors, not all were in support. 

“Reopening indoor mall activities poses a huge threat to the safety of workers and customers who lack the sense to stay home and stay safe,” said county resident Chelsea Labate. “Safety was a huge concern after the first reopening and led to a huge surge in new cases.”

Grant funding

Though breweries and other small businesses, such as family entertainment centers and card rooms, must remain closed for now, the Board of Supervisors approved a new $10 million grant program brought forth by Supervisor Janice Hahn. The program is included in the nearly $130 million spending plan the board approved in federal relief dollars. Details about how to apply will be forthcoming through Hahn’s office and the county Development Authority.  

Why health officials are keeping them closed

L.A. County currently falls under California’s “purple” tier, meaning it’s among the counties with widespread COVID-19 cases. In this tier, the state allows indoor malls to resume at 25% capacity with closed food courts and common areas. 

Bars and breweries under this tier have been allowed to open under the state’s health order if they can partner with food services, but the county’s health officer order has kept many local breweries that do not qualify as restaurants closed for onsite service to slow the spread of the virus, officials have said. 

Why has the county not adopted the state’s green light to reopen these businesses? 

For one, “we are so big,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, adding that even with those allowed to reopen, including an estimated 34,000 restaurants, not all are adhering to safety protocols such as ensuring physical distancing and wearing face masks. On average, the county has received about 2,000 weekly complaints about businesses not complying. 

The goal, she said, is to further reduce community transmission to allow the county to move into the state’s next reopening tier. 

Another factor, Ferrer said, is that bars and breweries where food is not offered are considered “high-risk” locations for people to catch the virus. 

“I want to note that at the state level, breweries and bars are considered some of the highest-risk activities and as such are not permitted,” she said, adding that people at these locations often fail to wear face masks and “there’s lots of lingering that goes on as well.” 

Ferrer reiterated that Public Health will look at Labor Day figures before revisiting the next reopening stages, following significant spikes in new cases during past holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. 

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