The California Restaurant Association moved one step closer to a possible victory in its fight to overturn an outdoor dining ban in Los Angeles County after a judge said county officials must show evidence that would link outdoor dining to the ongoing rise in coronavirus cases. The ruling was made today by Los Angeles Superior Court James C. Chalfant.
The ban began the day before Thanksgiving and comes as Los Angeles has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. On Wednesday, the county's daily test positivity rate was 13%, up from 3.9% on Nov. 1. The order comes more than a week after the association filed a lawsuit to reverse the lockdown on outdoor dining in the nation's most populous county.
The CRA, along with other restaurant industry advocacy groups, maintain that restaurants are being arbitrarily blamed for a rise in COVID cases.
“As we’ve said many times, the county’s order was arbitrary and targeted restaurants unfairly, without supporting evidence,” CRA President and CEO Jot Condie said in a letter sent to members late Wednesday. “The judge agreed with us that the county must bring forward evidence to support its decision to ban outdoor dining.”
Restaurants have been hit hard by indoor dining restrictions, leaving outdoor dining and off-premise ordering channels as the industry’s only lifeline.
In California, where cases have been surging, 52 of the state’s 58 counties are subject to the most restrictive COVID-19 safety protocols. With the exception of Los Angeles County, most jurisdictions in the state’s widespread “purple” risk factor tier have allowed restaurants to continue outdoor dining operations.
The judge's ruling does not mean Los Angeles area restaurants can reopen outdoor dining. In fact, dine in operations ceased Wednesday in the city of Los Angeles after Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a targeted stay at home order. Effective immediately, all residents must stay at home and all businesses must cease operations that require in-person attendance by workers at a workplace, according to the order.
"The better we are now at staying apart, the sooner we will be able to come back together," Garcetti said in a statement.
The CRA said the court is expected to make a determination next week on the outdoor ban in Los Angeles County.
“If the county can’t bring forward solid evidence to support its targeting of outdoor restaurants, it’s our position that outdoor dining be allowed to resume absent any statewide stay-at-home order,” Condie told members.
Still, Condie noted that the ban could be overturned as the state considers implementing a broader stay-at-home order.
As of Dec. 2, the 7-day positivity rate is 7.3% in California and the 14-day positivity rate is 6.9%. California has 1,245,948 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 19,324 deaths.
In Los Angeles County, average daily deaths have increased 92% since Nov. 9.
Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County's director of public health, called the coronavirus "relentless" and urged residents on Wednesday to slow the spread by wearing a face covering, distancing and staying away from crowds and gatherings.
"We are now at the worst point we have experienced thus far in this pandemic, and now is the time to take every single precaution to protect ourselves and others," she said in a statement.
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Update: This story has been edited to include more details about coronavirus cases in Los Angeles.