The largest indoor mall operator in the region, with locations including the Westfield Valencia Town Center, has filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County over COVID-19 health guidelines that have kept the shopping centers closed.
Westfield, with other locations in Sherman Oaks, Culver City and Topanga, alleged in a class-action lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles federal court with other business owners that the county’s order to keep indoor operations halted are “unlawful and unjustifiable” and that there is “absolutely no public health justification.”
“Defendants have forced hundreds of businesses in indoor malls to close, kept thousands of county residents out of work, caused millions of dollars in lost wages and revenue, and brought many businesses to the brink of collapse — without offering a single valid, science- or health-based reason for their actions, and despite the extensive measures indoor malls and their tenants have taken to protect employees and customers,” read the lawsuit.
In doing so, the county has “discriminated against businesses” that operate within indoor malls and their workers “without any rational basis whatsoever,” the court documents added.
County officials declined to offer comment on pending litigation but issued the following statement:
“From the onset of the pandemic, Los Angeles County has been intensely committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents through an unprecedented crisis using science and data and responding in real time to a deadly and previously unknown virus that has tragically claimed thousands of lives and upended life for millions of people — not just in Los Angeles County but across the nation and around the world.”
At the Valencia Town Center, Westfield has approximately 200 tenants but only those located at The Patios outdoor area can reopen, according to Molly Unger, vice president of Shopping Center Management.
“The lack of transparency has been the leader of this frustration,” she said Tuesday. “We have 31 malls across the U.S. and opened all but five and all (of those five are) in L.A. County. We just want to open to get businesses back into action.”
Unger argued that indoor malls are safer than some big retailers as malls have implemented measures such as doubling down on disinfecting, closed-off common areas and food courts while continuing take-out services and restructured tighter spaces with one-way foot traffic.
Indoor malls have been among other sectors, such as restaurants, churches, wineries and zoos, to move from limited indoor operations back to temporary closures in mid-July, after Gov. Gavin Newsom pulled back further reopenings and California saw a summer peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Under California’s four-tiered reopening blueprint, indoor malls can reopen with a 25% capacity while in the most restrictive tier — where L.A. County currently stands — but the county has kept malls closed to help prevent the spread of the virus by limiting large groups of people from congregating in enclosed spaces.
The lawsuit comes after a separate federal class action against the county filed by business owners who sought to reopen the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, and it also comes as the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has heard from dozens of additional mall employers and employees pleading for reopenings so that they can return to work.
Most recently in Santa Clarita, the City Council agreed to formulate support and request that the county allows indoor mall operations to resume, as well as to allow breweries to reopen.