Restaurant owners, workers, and supporters assembled outside of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s Santa Monica home Dec. 5 to protest the county’s recent orders restricting all dining services.
Kuehl was among three supervisors who voted against a resolution that would have allowed restaurants to continue serving patrons outdoors. She drew the ire of restaurateurs after being photographed dining at Il Forno Trattoria in Santa Monica Nov. 24, a day before the new rules were implemented.
The ban took effect Nov. 25 and will last at least three weeks.
Chants of “Let us work!” and “Open up LA” echoed throughout the neighborhood.
“I feel like they are so out of touch with what’s going on. We had five restaurant owners here, and between all of us, we employed 1,000 employees—those employees no longer have jobs,” Angela Marsden, owner of Pineapple Hill Saloon, told The Epoch Times.
Marsden organized the protest after being outraged that a movie production set next to her restaurant’s outdoor patio was given the green light to operate just after the new modifications took effect.
Prior to the Los Angeles Public Health Department’s modifications, restaurants were operating at 50 percent outdoor capacity in Los Angeles County.
Marsden said that in October, business was picking back up with the new outdoor patio she built, so she hired three new employees. Her establishment was already her employees’ third job because the previous two restaurants they’d worked at permanently closed due to capacity limitations.
“What are they thinking?” she said of Los Angeles County leadership.
“Either they’re not thinking, they’re doing it intentionally, or maybe they’re not doing it intentionally, but they just are so out of touch with the middle class and the lower-middle class.”
Bills to Pay
Staying at home is not an option when people still have to eat and pay their rent, Marsden said. She said keeping her saloon open was costing her more money only operating on takeout, so she’s completely shutting down until she can return to full capacity.
Marsden gave her employees grocery bags and their last paychecks the day the dining services ban went into effect. She said she has also already run out of Paycheck Protection Program loan money through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which helped small businesses pay employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
Allen Adams, owner of Paragon Bar and Grill in Northridge, told The Epoch Times that he was troubled by Supervisor Kuehl’s journey to an eatery hours before the lockdown.
“This decision is awful, especially the way she went about it,” he said. “You don’t say no to something, then you go out … and eat, which is the most hypocritical thing.”
Kuehl’s communications director, Barbara Osborn, said in a statement received by the LA Times that Kuehl loves the restaurant she went to on the day she voted to maintain a ban on outdoor dining, and she “has been saddened to see it, like so many restaurants, suffer from a decline in revenue.”
According to the statement, Kuehl took precautions while dining on the last day permissible, “and sadly will not dine there again until our public health orders permit.”
Adams said if the county can’t prove that outdoor dining is causing the surge, restaurants should be able to reopen, “because somewhere the message is getting lost and lives are being destroyed here.”
Adams lost his father two years ago, so he said he knows what it’s like to lose someone. “I don’t want anybody to get sick, I don’t want anybody to die,” he said.
“I put everything I had in this business, everything I have–and if I lose this business, I have nothing,” he said.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, he said his restaurant would rake in roughly $50,000 every weekend. Within the past three days, he’s pulled in $1,500. When the ban was announced, Adams said he had to let go of all of his employees.
William O’Sullivan, owner of O’Brien’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica, told The Epoch Times that many restaurant owners “invested a lot of money in these outside spaces, and most of us were shocked when they took them away from us.”
“We were not prepared for this,” O’Sullivan said. “I have a restaurant full of food, full of stock, I have employees lined up that I have to tell ‘You’re back out of a job again,’ and it has taken us all completely by surprise.”
O’Sullivan said he knows the COVID-19 numbers are changing, but “we operated a restaurant safely all year, and the numbers have gone down up to this point. I do not think the spike is happening because of outside dining. I do think that shutting down the outside dining is arbitrary.”
A few dozen protesters showed up and remained peaceful, though there was a contentious verbal exchange with two counter-protesters.
Jaylen, one of the counter-protesters, said he didn’t think the county’s decision was fair but that he still believed the rally was unnecessary.
“Stay at home, wear your mask, we need to mitigate the spread of this virus,” he said.
As of Dec. 6, LA County surpassed 10,000 daily COVID-19 cases for the first time with 23 additional deaths. Beverly Hills and Pasadena are currently the only two cities to defy the county’s restrictions on outdoor dining.
Legal challenges brought on by the California Restaurant Association are slated to continue the week of Dec. 7 as LA County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant orders county officials to provide evidence that outdoor dining contributed to the surge in COVID-19 cases.