Judge allows strip clubs to stay open, county stops enforcing restaurant restrictions
A San Diego Superior Court judge said Wednesday, Dec. 16 that two strip clubs could remain open and operate during the state’s latest COVID-19 shutdown orders, in a ruling that appeared to extend to the county’s besieged restaurant industry and allow these businesses to reopen to some extent.
Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil’s decision came in a case filed by two San Diego strip clubs. And while the clubs were successful in securing an injunction that allowed them to continue offering live dancing, the judge went one step further and said the injunction could apply in the restaurant business of San Diego which has been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wohlfeil’s decision prevents local officials from enforcing the latest round of restrictions that went into effect in San Diego County on December 3, not only against the two strip clubs – Pacers and Cheetahs – but also “them. San Diego County businesses with food service “that adhere to health and safety protocols that” are not greater than what is essential “to controlling the spread of COVID-19.
The decision takes effect immediately. What this precisely means is not clear.
San Diego County officials were unsure of the significance, but said Wednesday night, December 16, the county would stop enforcing restaurant restrictions.
“The state and county are analyzing the scope of the decision and discussing next steps, including seeking clarification from the court,” county communications director Mike Workman said in a statement. “Until we have clarity, we have suspended law enforcement activities against restaurants and live entertainment establishments.
“With a record number of new infections, deaths and intensive care units at full capacity, we want to remind everyone to do their part. Please don’t hang out, socially estranged, wear face coverings, and wash your hands. “
The county’s COVID-19 measures that measure a case rate and percentage of positive COVID-19 tests performed over a seven-day period put it in the state’s ‘widespread’ infection level and have triggered a mandatory shutdown or operating restrictions on many companies. Currently, restaurants are allowed to only offer take-out, with no option to eat inside or outside.
Wohlfeil’s order appears to be lifting these restrictions for restaurants, but to what extent is unclear.
The judge said there was no convincing evidence that allowing restaurants to operate, with health and safety restrictions, increased the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
“Given every opportunity, the county has not provided the court with any evidence that businesses in San Diego County offering food services, such as the Plaintiffs’ establishments, that have implemented protocols in accordance with the instructions of the county, pose a risk – much less of a greater risk than before Governor Newsom issued his regional stay-at-home order of December 3, 2020 – to the spread of COVID, ”he wrote.
While saying he was empathetic to county leaders set up to enforce state health orders or risk losing funding, he also said businesses were vital.
“These commercial establishments nurture and enliven the spirits of the community, while also providing employers and employees with the means to put food on the table and find shelter, clothing, medical care, education and, of course. , peace of mind for them and their families, ”he wrote.
The ruling is a stern rebuke to stay-at-home orders that limit or shut down businesses and entire sectors of the economy. Newsom and local leaders have said the restrictions are necessary as an increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations overwhelms the state, straining health care systems.
It came on a day when San Diego County reported 2,807 new cases of infection and 23 other deaths, and 301 patients in intensive care beds. Hospitals are starting to cut back on procedures such as organ transplants and cancer surgeries due to the strain on the system, county officials reported on Wednesday (December 16).
The capacity of available intensive care beds in San Diego and 10 other counties that make up the state’s “Southern California area” was less than 1 percent Wednesday, Dec. 16. Despite these dire numbers, Wohlfeil has repeatedly said that there is no “connection” between restaurants offering meals. , disease spread and state restrictions.
The state and county, he said, had not shown that “ businesses offering food service, such as the applicants’ establishments, which have implemented protocols in accordance with county instructions, impacted the capacity of intensive care beds throughout the Southern California region (let alone in San Diego County). “
Local restaurateurs have reacted with cautious optimism to a move they believe could give them the green light to reopen for indoor and outdoor dining. Until recent regional home order restaurants in San Diego County were allowed to serve customers out of doors.
“The general category in the decision is’ businesses with food service,” and I think Cowboy Star is a business that provides food service, ”said Jon Weber, co-owner of Cowboy Star in downtown San Diego. . “You can read the decision in different ways, depending on your bias. At Cowboy Star, we will continue to do what we do, which is take out. We’re not making any decisions tonight.
Cowboy Star was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of restaurants and gyms in San Diego County seeking a temporary order that would have immediately allowed them to return to domestic operations. Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Medel, however, dismissed their claim, siding with county and state officials who were the defendants in the case.
Chad Cline, co-owner of the Waterfront Bar & Grill in Little Italy and a number of other nightlife spots and restaurants, said Wednesday, December 16 that he hoped the decision in the Pacers case would allow him to reopen its business at catering, but is I’m not sure exactly what Judge Wohlfeil’s wording means.
“It kind of says restaurants can reopen, but the caveat may be someone has to take their clothes off, which seems so wild to me,” Cline said. “If that’s what it takes to reopen our businesses – take our clothes off, I will.”
Marco Li Mandri, chief executive of the Little Italy Association who led a coalition of restaurateurs urging the county supervisory board to let them reopen alfresco dining by this weekend, was encouraged by the court’s ruling .
“The ruling gives further confirmation that the state has exceeded its boundaries and so has the county, we strongly encourage the Oversight Council to challenge the governor’s order and allow alfresco dining the week before Christmas and at beyond, “he said.
For both clubs, the decision was a significant victory. On November 6, Wohlfeil issued a temporary injunction allowing clubs to remain open. His decision of Wednesday, December 16 extended that as the clubs’ action against the orders continues.
In that earlier ruling, Wohlfeil sided with clubs that argued that live adult dancing has been recognized as constitutionally protected freedom of expression by the courts, and said the restrictions posed a ” irreparable damage ”to businesses.
Jason Saccuzzo, Pacers’ attorney, said he was happy with the decision and if it applied to other companies then everything was fine. “Obviously that applies to us and if other companies are looking at it and want to work with it, that’s their decision. We fully support all restaurateurs and if our little suitcase does anything to help them, that’s great.
– Greg Moran and Lori Weisberg are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune