State Health Order Could Heat Debate Over Patio Dining


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Restaurants in Pasadena, which have remained open for in-person dining thanks to city health officials resisting a county ban on the practice, were preparing today to close under the state's regional stay-at-home order expected to take effect in the coming days.

Meanwhile, a South Bay city has enacted what it believes to be essentially a loophole to the county's in-person dining ban, while a Redondo Beach restaurant finally reverted to takeout service only after a week of openly defying the restriction, putting its operating permit at risk.

The city of Manhattan Beach this week officially declared all restaurant and retail store outdoor patios as “public seating areas.'' The designation means customers can go to a restaurant, purchase take-out food, then sit on the restaurant's patio to eat. No in-person service is provided by the eatery, in accordance with the county regulation.

People taking advantage of such seating must adhere to other health protocols, including mask wearing, social distancing and not gathering with people from other households.

“Our business community is struggling to survive the county's latest restrictions and the city has a win-win solution to help, while safeguarding public health,'' Mayor Suzanne Hadley said. “Additional public seating areas will strike this balance and repurpose public areas that temporarily can't be used for outdoor dining because of the county's restrictions.''

According to the city, the seating areas are for public use only, so seats cannot be reserved, no alcoholic beverages or smoking are permitted and people must dispose of their own trash.

The public seating areas will be closed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and people who use the seating are asked to sanitize the table after every use.

In nearby Redondo Beach, the owner of the Eat At Joe's restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway was actively defying the ban on in-person dining, continuing to offer patio service for customers over the past week. Alex Jordan told the Daily Breeze on Tuesday he was contacted by county public health officials and ordered to adhere to the ban or risk losing his health permit, effectively shutting the restaurant down.

On Friday, Jordan relented and closed the dine-in patio, but he still attracted a line of customers.

He told The Breeze the county has yet to prove that outdoor dining is more of a virus-transmission risk than other retail business that have been permitted to remain open.

Jordan initially made headlines when the in-person dining ban was announced, by hanging a banner on the restaurant's marquee that read “The French Laundry patio dining.'' The sign was a reference to a Northern California restaurant where Gov. Gavin Newsom attended a birthday party for a friend in apparent violation of his own guidance against public gatherings.

If Newsom's newly announced stay-at-home order takes effect in coming days, it will add more teeth to the county's ban on in-person dining. That impact will be felt quickly in Pasadena, where restaurants have been permitted to continue offering in-person service.

The city of Pasadena has its own health department separate from the county. While the city generally follows the lead of the county Department of Public Health on coronavirus restrictions, it declined to join the county in banning in-person dining the night before Thanksgiving amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

But if the state's stay-at-home order is imposed, it will require all restaurants to close for all but takeout and delivery service. Pasadena will be forced to abide by that order.

Pasadena restaurants were overrun with diners over Thanksgiving weekend, with eateries elsewhere in the county unable to offer in-person service. That rush prompted the city to modify its health order, allowing only people from the same household to dine together.

The debate over restaurant operations will return to court next week, when a Los Angeles judge will hold a hearing on a pair of lawsuits challenging the county's ban on in-person dining. Judge James Chalfant has declined thus far to issue an order overturning the ban, but he has ordered county attorneys to present evidence Tuesday on the scientific basis for the restriction -- something restaurant owners have accused the county of failing to provide.

Photo: Getty Images

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