L.A. County supervisors vote down motion to let restaurants continue outdoor dining

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A motion introduced Tuesday in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting that would have kept outdoor dining from shutting down temporarily starting late Wednesday night failed to pass by a 3-2 vote.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger introduced the motion — which would’ve allowed restaurants to continue serving customers outdoors at 50% capacity — at Tuesday’s board meeting in an attempt to extend a lifeline to struggling restaurants. In doing so, she argued that the new health order will further devastate local businesses.

Barger also pointed out that county health officials, including health officer Dr. Muntu Davis, did not present evidence that showed a link between outdoor dining at restaurants and the recent sharp spike of coronavirus cases.

At the meeting, Barbara Ferrer, the director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, admitted that their recommendation was based off a national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Data from the department’s website shows that 3.1% of COVID-19 outbreaks in the county are occurring at restaurants.

“After hearing Dr. Davis say that the evidence being used is the CDC study, and it’s the best info we have — after seven months, we have not been tracking that info — actually reaffirms how upset I am about the fact that I feel this is arbitrary and punitive toward outdoor dining at restaurants,” she said.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who supported Barger’s motion, said implementing such an order would have been a different story if the federal government was paying the restaurant workers to stay home.

“To close restaurants down at this point … without money to pay these workers, to pay these restaurants — I think we are careening down another economically tragic road,” Hahn said. “Closing, reopening, modifying, reopening again. And our cases are still going up.”

Giovanni D’Andrea says his establishment, Urban Press Winery in Burbank, was already hanging on by a thread after recently investing in reopening in accordance with public health guidelines. He said once the closure takes effect, he’ll have to let go of 25 employees.

“What are we gonna do with our food that we bought?” he asked. “It’s going to go into the trash.”

D’Andrea said the restaurant industry is being singled out, and the closures will be devastating to food service workers — “waiters, waitresses, chefs that are going to have no food next week, no salary, no tips.” 

“No Christmas for these people,” he said. “You guys understand that?”

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas voted against the motion.

Solis later explained that she voted to keep the temporary restrictions in place based on the recommendation of health experts.

“It is a tragedy that we have come to this point. I am keenly aware that suspending outdoor dining will have a detrimental impact on our small businesses,” she said in a statement. “None of us want to see this closure, but it is necessary to protect our collective well-being.”

But, Solis noted, the supervisors are working to aid those who will be financially impacted by the closure.

“To help businesses impacted by this restriction, the Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to my motion, on approving the appropriation of the County’s second CARES Act supplemental spending plan, to support restaurants, breweries and wineries,” she said.

L.A. County officials had announced Sunday that outdoor dining at those businesses would be halted for three weeks, starting 10 p.m. Wednesday, in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Health officials had said they would prohibit restaurant dining if the county’s five-day case average ticked above 4,000 amid an unprecedented surge of COVID-19. On Sunday, it reached 4,097.

Officials had also warned that a stay-at-home order could be issued in the county if the five-day case average surpassed 4,500. While that threshold was reached Monday after the county reported a single-day record of 6,124 new cases, no action to implement the more-restrictive action was taken at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

On Tuesday, the county reported 3,692 new cases of coronavirus and 51 deaths linked to COVID-19 —the highest single-day toll in more than two months.

Hospitalizations because of the virus also continued to increase at an “alarming rate,” health officials said in a news release. The number of people hospitalized has nearly doubled in two weeks to the current number of 1.575 people. About a quarter of those patients are in intensive care units.

And with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday, and travelers coming to and from Los Angeles, there is still concern that cases will only continue to accelerate.

“We had, I think, at LAX, 1 million travelers go through LAX yesterday. If you’re a public health person, you know you can — you just — you just start crying when you hear those numbers,” Ferrer said. “If we don’t have a big enough problem now, we’re likely to have a big problem because of all the in-traffics.”

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