Judge Says Los Angeles County Health Officials Must Provide Evidence To Justify Ban On Outdoor Dining At Restaurants



On Wednesday, a judge instructed attorneys representing the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to return to court next week with medical evidence to justify a three-week ban on outdoor dining that many restaurant owners say could put them out of business.

The Daily News reports Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant “appeared sympathetic” to separate lawsuits seeking to lift the restriction filed by the California Restaurant Association and famed attorney Mark Geragos, who owns the Engine Co. No. 28 restaurant in downtown L.A. However, according to the outlet, “Chalfant said he was reluctant to issue an order that could have a major impact on public health without first reviewing scientific data about the danger of coronavirus transmission at an outdoor dining establishment.”

He scheduled another hearing for next Tuesday when public health officials will have an opportunity to bring forth information that backs up their decision to issue such a directive.

“An order to show cause means that Los Angeles County, which has banned outdoor dining at restaurants, must finally step forward and show evidence linking outdoor dining to the ongoing rise in coronavirus cases,” said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. “Their order was arbitrary and targeted restaurants unfairly, without supporting evidence.”

“It is our expectation that if the county is unable to produce evidence justifying this decision, then outdoor dining should be allowed to resume as soon as the stay-at-home order is lifted.”

Judge Chalfant requested that public health officials explain why L.A. County’s order is more severe than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening strategy for California. According to the L.A. Times, Newsom’s plan “permits outdoor dining and requires a risk-benefit analysis for restrictions that are stricter than those of the state.”

“You have to do a risk-benefit analysis for public health,” Judge Chalfant said. “You don’t just talk about the risk of spreading disease. You have to talk about the benefit of keeping restaurants open.”

More from the L.A. Times:

Chalfant expressed some skepticism about the ban. Based on the studies he has reviewed, the risk of spreading the coronavirus from outdoor dining appears minimal, he said.

But the county should have a chance to “answer those questions and fill those holes,” the judge said.

Chalfant also asked county officials to explain why the ban was keyed to the five-day average of new coronavirus cases hitting 4,000.

The county must provide data on hospital capacity and intensive care beds to support its claim that the healthcare system would be overwhelmed without the ban, the judge said.

Health authorities announced the suspension on outdoor dining last month, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. It restricts restaurants, breweries, wineries, and bars to takeout and delivery orders.

“The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks,” Barbara Ferrer, the L.A. County public health director, said at the time.

But public health officials were unable to 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.

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