Judge rules in restaurants’ favor on county outdoor-dining ban

Pedro Daniel serves guests at Olive Terrace's outdoor dining area Monday afternoon. November 23, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.
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A judge halted Los Angeles County’s outdoor-dining ban in a ruling that would take effect after the current statewide order ends, city of Santa Clarita officials announced Tuesday.

“A preliminary injunction has been granted to halt the closure of outdoor dining in Los Angeles County,” read a Tweet posted Tuesday at 12:09 p.m. from the city’s social media account.

Santa Clarita City Council members recently authorized an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit filed on behalf of restaurants in L.A. County.

The injunction means when the state’s safer-at-home order expires, “The county may not extend the outdoor dining ban without conducting an ‘appropriate risk-benefit analysis,’” the Tweet read.

A spokesman for the California Restaurant Association, which brought the lawsuit, was working with officials on a response when contacted for comment Tuesday afternoon. 

“Restaurants and their employees have faced tremendous hardships because of the county’s ban on outdoor dining, which followed a period of months during which public health officials encouraged outdoor activities, and restaurants invested in expanding and establishing outdoor spaces in order to serve their guests safely,” according to a previous statement from the California Restaurant Association.

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger has previously stated there’s been no proof that outdoor dining service is a serious threat if protocols are being followed.

“I’m very much about — if you believe that is the reason why it’s happening, then I’m going to stand behind you — but there was no nexus whatsoever to the increase (in COVID-19 figures and outdoor dining),” she said last week, in an interview with The Signal.

The move comes as county Public Health officials are contending with day after day of record-breaking COVID-19 cases being reported, and the aforementioned three-week state-imposed stay-at-home order that prevents any outdoor gathering and supersedes any county decision. That order is based on the availability of intensive care unit beds for the state Department of Public Health-designated Southern California region, which includes Los Angeles County. As of Tuesday, the availability was listed at approximately 13%, and the state metric requires at least 15% for safe reopening.

The decision and lobbying are vital for the restaurant industry to be able to continue to thrive, according to industry lobbyists, who expressed concern Monday for the viability of about a half-million restaurants. As of this week, 17% of restaurants — more than 110,000 establishments across the country — are closed permanently or long-term, according to a National Restaurant Association report Monday.

A survey for more than 6,000 of its members noted 87% of full-service restaurants (independent, chain and franchise) report an average 36% drop in sales revenue — in an industry, according to the organization, with an average profit margin of 5% to 6%.

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