Judge: LA County must prove an outdoor eating ban

The judge on Wednesday instructed Los Angeles County public health officials to show scientific evidence justifying a ban on eating outdoors last week amid soaring coronavirus cases.

The outdoor meal offered an ambulance to restaurants struggling during the pandemic. The California restaurant Assn. sued for lifting the ban, an LA downtown restaurant, Engine Co. No. 28. brought a similar action.

The county is due to return to court on Tuesday to present evidence in support of the ban, James Chalfant, a LA County Supreme Court judge, said at a Wednesday morning hearing.

“You need to do a risk-benefit analysis for public health. It’s not just about the risk of spreading the disease. You need to talk about the benefits of keeping restaurants open, Chalfant said.

Chalfant expressed some skepticism about the ban. Based on the studies he reviewed, the risk of the coronavirus spreading from an outdoor meal appears to be minimal, he said.

But the county needs to be given a chance to “answer these questions and fill in these holes,” the judge said.

Chalfant also asked county officials to explain why they banned the five-day average of new coronavirus cases, which reached 4,000.

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

He also asked the county to provide a justification for deviating from Governor Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan, which allows for outdoor dining and requires a risk-benefit analysis of stricter restrictions than his state.

Amnon Siegel, the county’s attorney, stated at the hearing that eating public is inherently risky, “because you can’t wear your mask and don’t move away”.

According to Siegel, certain data, including hospital capacity, are difficult to provide because they are constantly fluctuating and based on complex contingency plans.

The county is sensitive to the negative effects of the restrictions, he added.

“We understand people’s pain and hardship over the past nine months,” he said. “And it plays an absolute role” in decision making.

The LA County outdoor eating ban went into effect on Nov. 25 and will last for three weeks as cases of the coronavirus rise to unprecedented levels.

The LA County Joint Supervisory Board voted against the ban being lifted. Superintendent Kathryn Barger, who opposes the ban, has expressed concern that “this county has approached everything, it should be closed unless we have a good reason to open it”.

LA and Beverly Hills city councils have passed a resolution opposing the ban and calling on supervisors to review it.

Pasadena, which has its own public health department and can define its own coronavirus policy, allows you to continue eating al fresco, provided everyone at the table comes from the same household and the number of parties cannot exceed six.

Mark Geragos, a lawyer at Motor Co. No. 28, who owns it, said the county’s evidence to date is not specifically about outdoor catering.

The expert testimony submitted by the county was “masterful” in utilizing data on indoor meals without being more specific about outdoor meals.

Meanwhile, even a week before Chalfant is considering a temporary restraining order, restaurant owners and their employees will suffer, said Dennis Ellis, the association’s attorney.

“I trust the court will recognize that there are people who are unemployed who are not earning a living,” he said.