News and Commentary

Judge Lifts Los Angeles County Ban On Outdoor Dining At Restaurants, But State Order Still In Effect

   DailyWire.com
A customer receives his takeout order from a restaurant in Los Angeles, California on December 1, 2020. - A county-wide coronavirus regulations went into effect again on November 30 for three weeks amid ever increasing numbers of positive Covid-19 cases and fears of overwhelmed hospitals. Aid for restaurants will begin on December 3, with the start of the Keep Los Angeles County Dining Grant Program , allowing eligible restaurants which have lost business due to countywide coronavirus health regulations to apply for and receive up to $30,000 in aid. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Los Angeles County’s ban against outdoor dining at restaurants has been overturned by a judge who ruled that health department officials “acted arbitrarily” and without “rational” justification when they issued the order last month.

An overlapping regional stay-at-home order has since been issued by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, which supersedes the county directive, keeping the restriction in place for the time being.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a tentative opinion on Tuesday, which he adopted later in the afternoon, concluding the mandate from L.A. Public Health was “unsupported by any findings.”

Although the judge’s decision granted a temporary injunction that lifted the countywide restriction, Chalfant made clear, “outdoor restaurant dining in the county cannot reopen at this time.”

“The Restaurant Closure Order is an abuse of the Department’s emergency powers, is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic, and should be adjudicated to be unenforceable as a matter of law,” Chalfant wrote.

That means if the state lifts its ban on outdoor restaurant operations, the county must allow outdoor dining to resume. The county could not reenact the ban without first conducting a risk-benefit analysis, then presenting that evidence to the court for approval.

“By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end,” Chalfant said in the court document.

As The Daily Wire previously reported, Chalfant had ordered public health officials last week to bring forth evidence to support its decision to issue the outdoor dining ban. Two separate lawsuits had accused county authorities of unfairly targeting the restaurant industry. Judge Chalfant had reportedly “appeared sympathetic” to the legal challenges by the California Restaurant Association and famed attorney Mark Geragos, who owns the Engine Co. No. 28 restaurant in downtown L.A.

Still, Chalfant said last Wednesday that he was reluctant to issue an injunction that could impact public health without reviewing information about outdoor dining dangers. On Sunday evening, the state imposed more severe regional restrictions on an area that included L.A. County. The state order mirrored much of the county’s advisory and included a ban on outdoor dining at restaurants.

Attorneys representing the restaurant industry indicated they also planned to sue the state.

Politico reports:

California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly on Tuesday acknowledged the state’s regional prohibition on outdoor dining has more to do with preventing gatherings and limiting movement than the activity itself.

“The decision to include among other sectors outdoor dining and limiting that – turning to restaurants to deliver and provide takeout options instead – really has to do with the goal of trying to keep people at home, not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining,” he said at a press briefing.

“We have worked hard with that industry to create safer ways for outdoor dining to happen – to keeping tables further apart, to ensuring masking happens as much as possible, to create opportunities for air circulation to continue – all of those factors make sectors like outdoor dining lower risk,” he said.

According to Politico, “Ghaly did not directly address a reporter’s question about the Los Angeles judge’s request for more specific data that shows that outdoor dining is riskier than other outdoor activities that are still permitted.”

L.A. County health authorities announced the suspension of outdoor dining last month, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. But they could not provide data to support their decision to implement the ban when pressed by the powerful L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Still, the body voted 3-2 to move forward with the order.

Democratic Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was caught dining outdoors at a Santa Monica restaurant hours after she voted to uphold the restriction. The ban took effect the next day, on November 25.

The state’s order affecting L.A. County will remain in place until at least December 27 but could be extended depending on the availability of ICU beds.

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