California County Superior Court Judge: Officials ‘Acted Arbitrarily’ Shutting Down Outdoor Dining

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Los Angeles County is facing legal pushback over its decision last month to prohibit outdoor dining at restaurants, with county Superior Court Judge James Chalfant saying that restaurants cannot be shut down indefinitely and that health officials and the Board of Supervisors “acted arbitrarily” when issuing the order.

But that does not mean outdoor dining is back, according to the LA Eater website: 

First and foremost, this does not mean that restaurants under the purview of the LA County Department of Public Health (which is every restaurant in the county except for those in Pasadena and Long Beach proper) can open today for on-site outdoor dining. The state’s regional stay at home order, set forth on Sunday at midnight as area ICU bed capacity continued to fall to alarming levels, still supersedes any regional decision.

The judgement does say that County officials have a specific duty to “perform the required risk-benefit analysis” when making decisions about things like restaurant closures.

The judge writes that L.A. County “could be expected to consider the economic cost of closing 30,000 restaurants, the impact to restaurant owners and their employees, and the psychological and emotional cost to a public tired of the pandemic.”

The judge’s decision said that officials cannot shut down the restaurant sector indefinitely and set a cap for the modified public health order’s action against restaurants for December 16. 

But, the report said, outdoor dining will not resume until the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted. LA Eater reported:

Overall, Judge Chalfant says that more data and/or a stronger argument from the county is needed in court to support any future ban of on-site outdoor dining of indeterminate length. The county’s argument that restaurants are higher-risk spaces because people gather, unmasked, and spread COVID via expelled droplets, Chalfant says, ‘only weakly supports closure of outdoor restaurant dining because it ignores the outdoor nature of the activity, which the CDC says carries only a moderate risk (and less with mitigations).

LA Eater also reported that, despite the orders, “some [restaurants] are staying open in defiance of the public health order, others are protesting in front of the homes of politicians or pushing for an industry-wide rent strike.”

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