Wilk and other lawmakers urging Newsom to reclassify restaurants as essential businesses

Newhall Press Room manager Laura Raden waits on customers as Main Street is close to increase outside seating for restaurants in Newhall on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

A bipartisan group of California senators, including Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, is urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to reclassify restaurants as essential businesses amid everchanging safety restrictions and COVID-19 surges. 

The letter, signed by 11 legislators on Dec. 11, criticizes guidelines the governor’s administration has implemented and the effects it has had on the restaurant industry in California. 

“Many restaurants have gone out of business, and now, with the approach of winter and new guidelines that restrict indoor dining, many others will be forced to consider a similar choice,” reads the letter. 

The senators ask in the letter that Newsom “immediately reclassify the restaurant industry as critical infrastructure before even more damage is done to our communities.”

Santa Clarita Valley restaurants said Tuesday they were glad to hear about the call to reclassify them as essential businesses. 

“People do have to eat and some people can’t or don’t like to cook,” said Greg Amsler, owner of Valencia’s Salt Creek Grille. “So, they do need to eat and have that social aspect. People need to be around other people and if you can do that in a safe environment, like at a restaurant, you’ll avoid it in unsafe environments (like group gatherings at homes) because you don’t know who’s been there and some might take off their masks.” 

The letter comes after a court ruling last week on L.A. County’s in-person dining ban that deemed Public Health officials acted “arbitrarily” because they failed to prove that health benefits justified the halt on outdoor dining. 

“Public Health professionals always, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have the obligation to create effective interventions that prevent and control the spread of communicable disease,” read a Friday Public Health statement in response. “When making its order, Public Health knew that new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within the county were beginning to surge.” 

In a prepared statement Tuesday, Wilk said restaurants have done more than just provide food to their customers. 

“The governor’s recurring shutdowns have made it incredibly difficult for all businesses in California but restaurants have been particularly hard hit. Many have spent tens of thousands of dollars to comply with the governor’s ‘outdoor dining’ regulations only to have him pull the rug out from under them again,” said Wilk. “Community restaurants have played a vital role in providing meals during the pandemic and should be treated as the essential businesses they are in our neighborhoods.”

The Old Town Junction in downtown Newhall, for example, had temporarily provided groceries for the community during the start of the pandemic, said Assistant General Manager Shane Bothwell. 

“Because of the scarcity of groceries at the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to help the community and people really liked it and it was very impactful,” he said. 

Salt Creek and several other restaurants have also participated in multiple fundraisers throughout the year in providing meals for nonprofits such as for the SCV Boys & Girls Club and Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. 

Lawmakers added in the letter that restaurant closures and restrictions equate to “jobs lost, missed rent, mortgage and car payments and a lot of unemployment checks.”

In 2019, more than 1.8 million jobs were attributed to the restaurant and food service industry in the state, according to a report by the California Restaurant Association, which sued the county over its outdoor dining ban. 

“(The ban) should have never happened; there was never science that backed up shutting us down,” said Amsler. “A lot of restaurants, especially the small independent ones like us, won’t be able to make it. Yet, we still have rent and insurance to pay.” 

On Monday, a restaurant class action complaint was filed against the county and California, asking the governments to reimburse eateries for liquor licenses, health permits and state tourism assessments they have had to pay this year. 

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