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August 2, 2021
PHOTO CREDITS: KENT NISHIMURA/LA TIMES
Los Angeles restaurants won a court battle over closures, after a judge ruled that the health director couldn’t prove the danger of outdoor dining.
Los Angeles County’s health director acted “arbitrarily” and didn’t prove the danger to the public when she banned outdoor dining at restaurants as coronavirus cases surged last month, a judge ruled Tuesday in a case other businesses may use to try to overturn closures and restrictions. The county failed to show that health benefits outweigh the negative economic effects before issuing the ban, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote. He also said the county did not offer evidence that outdoor dining presented a greater risk of spreading the virus.
“By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end,″ the judge wrote. Chalfant limited the outdoor dining ban to three weeks and said once it expires Dec. 16 the Department of Public Health must conduct a risk-benefit analysis before trying to extend it.
It was the first victory for California restaurants challenging health orders that have crippled their industry. But there was no immediate relief for LA county restaurant owners because a more sweeping shutdown ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom now is in effect. The California Restaurant Association, which brought the lawsuit, had hoped the judge would lift the ban but still was pleased with the result. “I do think that this is going to hold the county’s feet to the fire when they decide to close down an entire sector of economy,” association lawyer Richard Schwartz said. “You can’t have a cure that’s worse than the disease.”
Chalfant’s ruling clears the way for restaurants to return to operation when Newsom’s order expires. However, it’s not clear when that will happen since the governor’s order is in effect until “at least” Dec. 27. The association didn’t say if it would challenge the state order in court (KTLA).
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE