O.C., San Diego breweries sue Gov. Newsom over COVID-19 tasting room restrictions

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Craft breweries in Orange and San Diego counties are among a group of beer manufacturers across California suing Gov. Gavin Newsom, alleging the state has discriminated against them by making guidelines stricter than those for wine manufacturers.

Currently, neither breweries nor wineries can open in California regions under the state’s stay-at-home order. But once the orders are lifted, breweries are allowed to reopen if they serve meals to visitors.

That is a coronavirus-related restriction not imposed on the state’s winemakers, according to the lawsuit filed late Thursday in Los Angeles federal court.

The California Craft Brewers Association and a group of California breweries, including Green Cheek Beer Co. and Chapman Crafted Beer —both based in Orange— and San Diego’s Second Chance Beer Co. contend that the requirement they must serve meals to visitors to operate tasting rooms but not requiring wineries to do the same thing is “arbitrary, irrational and unconstitutional.”

The breweries are among local manufacturers to have been “irreparably harmed by the state’s actions in response to COVID-19,” including most significantly by the dine-in meal requirement, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that the public health mandate “was not supported by scientific data” or an explanation of how providing meals slows the spread of the virus, according to the California Craft Brewers Association, which represents the state’s over 1,050 craft breweries.

Green Cheek Beer is still open but only offering drive-up services, according to the company’s website. The company maintains that it has been following all of the state and local COVID-19 public health rules, but they have had to lay off many employees.

Brian Russo, CEO and co-founder of Orange-based Green Cheek Beer, said the lawsuit is not about staying open, but rather about being treated the same as other similar businesses such as wineries.

“It’s our last recourse,” Russo said. “We feel that we’re just not being treated fairly like other alcohol beverage manufacturers.”

Russo told KTLA that he knows of some breweries who have had to close already due to COVID-19 restrictions and closures.

“We’re saying enough is enough, and we need to find another way to go about this,” he said. “And the lawsuit was the last resort to try to get some fair and equitable standards for us.”

Russo and other brewery owners argue that the restriction violates the beer makers’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

The suit comes amid other challenges filed by businesses, including another lawsuit filed in San Diego where a judge ruled that restaurants and live entertainment venues could reopen following a ruling over strip clubs.

However, the San Diego judge’s ruling to reopen restaurants was quickly overruled by an appeals court saying restaurants still need to abide by California’s regional stay-at-home order.

Multiple lawmakers across the state have reached out to the California Alcoholic Beverage Control, asking them to cease all enforcement on restaurants that have continued indoor or dining. 

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