California Legislators Urge Governor to Reclassify Restaurants as ‘Essential’

December 15, 2020 Updated: December 16, 2020

Eleven bipartisan members of the California State Senate have sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, urging him to reclassify restaurants as “essential businesses” and allow them to reopen safely.

The letter, sent Dec. 11, calls the guidelines implemented by Newsom’s administration “devastating” for restaurants, the jobs they provide, and the revenue they bring in for communities.

“We urge you in the strongest terms to reclassify restaurants as essential businesses, and adopt the industry’s protocols that would allow restaurants to operate safely,” the letter states. “The future of thousands of restaurants, their employees and the unique character of our local communities are dependent on the survival of this industry.”

Newsom’s recent stay-at-home order, which went into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 6 after regional intensive care unit availability dropped below 15 percent, required all Southern California restaurants to close for indoor and outdoor dining, allowing to-go orders and delivery services only.

The letter argues that closed restaurants means “jobs lost, missed rent, mortgage and car payments and a lot of unemployment checks.” It calls for the governor to reclassify the restaurant industry as “critical infrastructure before even more damage is done to our communities.”

Restaurants account for 11 percent of the state’s employment, according to the letter, which adds that the California Restaurant Association reports that 60 percent of state restaurants are owned by people of color, and 50 percent are owned or partly owned by women.

“The industry has proposed guidelines that would allow restaurants to continue to operate safely and at capacity levels that will allow restaurants to stay afloat, while at the same time implementing safety protocols that address the unique challenges inherent with indoor restaurant operations,” the letter states.

Orange County Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) spearheaded the letter. Bates recently co-authored the Keep California Working Act, which would provide $2.6 billion to small businesses affected by the pandemic.

“As we await the distribution of a vaccine and more aid from the federal government, the Legislature must do more to help save local jobs and small businesses,” Bates said in a press release.

In a Dec. 15 press release, Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita), who also signed the letter, urged the governor to reconsider his decision.

“The governor’s recurring shut downs have made it incredibly difficult for all businesses in California but restaurants have been particularly hard hit. Many have spent tens of thousands of dollars to comply with the governor’s ‘outdoor dining’ regulations only to have him pull the rug out from under them again,” Wilks said.

“Community restaurants have played a vital role in providing meals during the pandemic and should be treated as the essential businesses they are in our neighborhoods.”

The letter emphasizes that restaurants are more than just places to eat, serving their communities in many ways. Restaurants make up the “unique character of our local communities” and are responsible for “providing meals to senior citizens and working with food banks to feed families struggling to put food on their tables,” the letter states.

Others who signed the letter include Sens. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno), Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), Brian Jones (R-Santee), Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), and Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa).