Food fight: Judge grills LA County on outdoor dining ban

Court denies restaurant association effort to overturn measure, but wants more information about link to Covid spike

Photo illustration of L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Getty)
Photo illustration of L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Getty)

Los Angeles County’s three-week ban on outdoor dining is being put to the test.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied the California Restaurant Association’s call to overturn the measure, but he ordered county lawyers return in a week with clearer reasons to justify the ban. The Los Angeles Times first reported the judge’s move.

“What, if any, risk/benefit analysis was conducted by defendants prior to the restaurant closure order,” the judge asked the county, according to a court filing Wednesday night. The Public Health Department is expected to provide that information.

The judge also said the county must provide information on mortality rates traced to outdoor dining, and why the county issued a ban that goes beyond state prohibitions on restaurants.

L.A. County’s outdoor dining ban went into effect Nov. 24, as Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the area surged. They have continued to rise, and on Wednesday night, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a modified stay-at-home order.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

By signing up, you agree to TheRealDeal Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

The county’s outdoor dining ban has faced unusually fierce backlash from restaurants that have invested in protective gear, heat lamps and other materials to create attractive and comfortable outdoor dining areas.

The retail and restaurant industry has made it a rallying cry that the Covid spike is from social gatherings between households, not from businesses that have followed pandemic safety guidelines.

Restaurant landlords and tenants are also balking at restrictions to their business, absent further stimulus relief. This week the county announced it will provide a $5.6 million aid package to restaurants hard-hit by Covid. The funding excludes the city of Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Pasadena, which has its own public health officer, has ignored the county’s outdoor dining ban. Beverly Hills, which does not have a public health officer and is bound by county guidelines, issued a resolution against the ban, and cities including West Covina and Whittier have also voiced their displeasure.

The County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 last week to maintain the ban.