By The Signal Editorial Board
As in much of the rest of California, trying to govern with good sense is an uphill battle in Los Angeles County.
And once again, we are here to thank Kathryn Barger for fighting that uphill battle.
Barger represents L.A. County’s 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, on the Board of Supervisors. In recent months, she has been the lone voice of reason on the board, on issues including the wrong-headed Measure J, which effectively defunds law enforcement in L.A. County, and the board’s decision to continue spending millions of taxpayer dollars on free legal representation for illegal immigrants at a time when millions of the county’s citizens face economic hardship.
Barger’s latest noble fight for a losing cause came this past week, when she stood up for her constituents who face financial devastation due to the shutdown of outdoor dining at restaurants.
This time, she was joined by 1st District Supervisor Janice Hahn, who concurred with Barger that it would be inappropriate to make outdoor dining the scapegoat for the current surge in COVID-19 cases.
Barger and Hahn are right, but it wasn’t enough, as they were on the losing end of a 3-2 vote that ordered the cessation of outdoor dining at bars, restaurants and wineries throughout the county.
The decision is not adequately supported by science. When Barger asked L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis for specific data to support the new order, he had none, and instead cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found that those who tested positive are two times more likely to have gone to eat at a restaurant than not.
Davis neglected to acknowledge that the CDC study included data from just 11 locations nationwide, and did not focus exclusively on outdoor dining.
In other words, there’s no way of knowing how many of the individuals in the study dined indoors or outdoors, and what kinds of precautions were taken.
Said Barger: “After hearing Dr. Davis say that the evidence being used is the CDC study, and it’s the best info we have after seven months, we have not been tracking that info, it actually reaffirms how upset I am about the fact that I feel this is arbitrary and punitive toward outdoor dining at restaurants,” Barger said. “I’m concerned that this county has taken the approach of, ‘Everything should be closed, unless we have a good reason to open it,’ while our approach should be, ‘Will we close sectors, when they prove to carry too much risk?’ Outdoor dining has not hit that threshold for closure.”
Indeed, there’s literally no relevant data to support the closure of outdoor dining. The Public Health Department is playing a hunch, and they’re playing it with thousands of L.A. County residents’ livelihoods on the line.
This despite the fact that restaurants have not been noted as a source of COVID-19 outbreaks in L.A. County.
Hundreds of L.A. County restaurants, including many here in the SCV, have jumped through every flaming hoop the county has put before them.
The county ordered reductions in seating capacity, so they reduced seating capacity.
The county required tables be sufficiently distanced, so they distanced the tables.
The county required all employees to wear masks, so they wore masks.
The county required all dining to be outdoors, so the restaurants set up makeshift patios, and purchased or rented costly equipment including barriers, canopies and space heaters.
Heading into Thanksgiving, operating on the presumption they would be allowed to serve customers on one of their busiest days of the year, restaurants ordered food and supplies and scheduled employees to work.
Then the county pulled the rug out from under them, banning outdoor dining effective 10 p.m. the night before a major holiday. A food-focused holiday, at that.
One can only imagine how much that cost the restaurant operators, if nothing else because they were left holding the bag with untold amounts of food they could no longer sell.
Ironically, the closure of outdoor dining almost certainly forced many of those would-be restaurant patrons back to indoor gatherings — which are considered much higher-risk environments and are far less regulated.
It’s questionable decision-making, driven in large part by the influence of county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, who was not elected by the public and is not a medical doctor.
It’s frustrating on a lot of fronts — for those who consider a meal out a much-needed respite in difficult times, for those restaurant owners who have invested so much to comply with the health orders, for those restaurant employees who just lost out on substantial wages and tips, and may find themselves again out of work for who knows how long.
And it must be frustrating for Barger, too. We applaud the supervisor for fighting the good fight, for sticking up for her constituents, and for not giving up the battle for common sense in a county government where it seems anything but common.