Los Angeles with a bus driving by.
Unsplash/Olenka Kotyk

Despite the judge’s ruling, outdoor dining will still be banned in L.A. County.

Judge Rules Against L.A. County’s Outdoor Dining Ban, but State Restrictions Remain

California’s stay-at-home orders are in effect until at least December 27.

A Los Angeles County judge ruled Tuesday that L.A. County public health officials improperly instituted an outdoor dining ban because the restriction lacked justifiable evidence. 

L.A. Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said the county should’ve conducted a risk-benefit analysis before announcing the order. 

"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,” Chalfant said in his ruling. 

The judge acknowledged that the county can show rising COVID cases are overwhelming hospitals, but he added that officials didn’t present strong enough evidence for risks when dining outdoors. The public health department argued that COVID can spread when customers are spending time together without masks, but the judge referred to the argument as weak and that it “ignores the outdoor nature of the activity, which the CDC says carries only a moderate risk, and less with mitigations.”

Despite the judge’s ruling, outdoor dining will still be banned in L.A. County because of California’s stay-at-home orders, which supersede any decision at the county level. 

The state issued restrictions for more than 20 counties across Southern California and San Joaquin Valley, which limits restaurants to an off-premises model. The measures were implemented because ICU capacity fell below 15 percent. Many counties in the Bay Area decided to implement the state’s restrictions, as well, even though its region was above the 15 percent threshold. 

The judge wrote a decision that prevents L.A. County from extending its local ban beyond the December 16 end date unless it provides an adequate risk-benefit analysis. The judge said  that analysis could involve “the economic cost of closing 30,000 restaurants, the impact to restaurant owners and their employees and the psychological and emotional cost to a public tired of the pandemic and seeking some form of enjoyment in their lives.”

Even if L.A. County doesn’t provide an appropriate risk-benefit analysis, the state level ban—which L.A. County must follow—is in place until at least December 27. 

The state’s stay-at-home orders would end after three weeks only if the ICU capacity projected four weeks out reaches 15 percent. On Tuesday, San Joaquin Valley’s capacity stood at 6.3 percent, while Southern California came in at 10.9 percent. 

The court case began after the California Restaurant Association and attorney Mark Geragos, owner of L.A. restaurant Engine Co. No. 28, filed lawsuits accusing L.A. County of unjustly implementing an outdoor ban, which started November 25. At the time, L.A. County was the only area in the state that had shut down outdoor dining