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The Battle Over Outdoor Dining Continues

Lucky Baldwins in Sierra Madre is temporarily closed. | Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

By Terry Miller

Remember outdoor dining? It was the closest thing to pre-epidemic normal for the 10 million residents of Los Angeles County — until recently. Then, a huge surge in hospitalizations and cases of the coronavirus forced the county’s health department to ban outdoor dining again in late November.

Beacon Media has been closely watching the status of the restaurant empire in this most challenging year for the hospitality industry.

Opponents of the state’s outdoor dining ban have filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom, two weeks after a Superior Court judge said L.A. County health officials acted arbitrarily and “failed to perform the required risk-benefit analysis” before enacting a similar ban.

Despite the ruling in L.A. County, restaurants have still been unable to reopen for outdoor dining as the state’s regionals stay-at-home order remain in place until Dec. 28. During a press conference Monday, Newsom said the order was likely to be extended as the region’s ICU availability remains at 0% among a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

A legal team headed by Mark J. Geragos, who owns Downtown L.A. eatery Engine Co. No. 28, filed the federal suit on behalf of Angela Marsden, owner of Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in Sherman Oaks.

This is not the only suit against Newsom over the outdoor dining ban. In Bakersfield, 35 restaurant owners “filed suit in Kern County Superior Court [Dec. 16] accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom and four other top state officials of exceeding their authority by restricting diners’ business operations during the pandemic,” according to Bakersfield.com.

Though most restaurants now remain closed for outside dining, some, out of sheer necessity, have remained open to help staff and the business survive without any real federal assistance.

Insurance Journal reports that “More than 30,000 restaurants in Los Angeles County were closed to diners for months after a statewide shutdown order in March relegated them to offering takeout. They never fully recovered as they tried to navigate ever-changing regulations for reopening that eventually allowed dining on patios and makeshift seating areas in alleys, parking lots, sidewalks and blocked-off streets.”

Part of the problem for restaurants is that some simply cannot make it on takeout orders alone as it brings in very little profit, particularly when delivery services can take anywhere between 20% to 40% of orders

How many restaurants have closed permanently is unclear. However, the numbers are increasing rapidly. Many have been forced to shut down at least through the holidays.

This past weekend more resistance in a struggle to survive occurred in Orange County particularly where more than 60 eateries had vowed to continue serving seated patrons, according to the OC Register. Many of them are using the #OpenSafe hashtag on Instagram.

We recently published an opinion piece – online- by Phil Space. The reaction to the author’s opines was considerably greater than anticipated…some in strong support of the author’s conclusion and others simply in shock that anyone would dare publish such “dribble,” among other choice comments too risqué for a family newspaper.

We apparently struck a nerve when attempting to understand the policy against outdoor dining in connection to COVID-19 and Facebook’s influence on the general public.

A now unemployed reader named Deanne in Monrovia explained the impacts these closures have on working people. “I am one of those people impacted and now face finding a job during restaurant closures and unemployment at $148 ($127 after taxes) a week is not the answer,” she wrote. “One can’t survive on that. I want/need to work.”

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