A judge blasted Los Angeles County officials Tuesday over restrictions on outdoor dining even as COVID-19 cases continue to spike to dangerous levels across Southern California, saying the move "lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end."
Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued an injunction overturning the county ban, but outdoor dining is still prohibited because of a regional stay-at-home order that also includes the mandate. That order kicked in for all of Southern California this week after bed availability at intensive-care units dropped below 15% over the weekend.
It will remain in place for three weeks and bans indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants, along with larger gatherings.
In Tuesday's court hearing, lawyers for the California Restaurant Association argued that county officials had not proven the connection between outdoor dining and coronavirus transmission and said banning such activities would do little in stemming the spread of COVID-19.
"I am shocked that in nine months, [government officials] have not looked seriously at outdoor dining," Chalfant said, according to LAist. "I am not laying this at the county's feet but that is a failure of government."
In his ruling, he said the county acted arbitrarily and "failed to perform the required risk-benefit analysis." He further expressed skepticism about the dangers of the virus and theorized about who is responsible for what some see as overreaching government mandates.
"I think one of the problems with the pandemic is that government agencies, including the media, are driving the fear. And the evidence shows that healthy Americans need not fear... The average healthy American is not seriously at risk here of dying," Chalfant said.
Attorneys for the county disagreed with the judge and said proving the link between dining outdoors and the transmission of COVID-19 is "arbitrary and capricious," according to LAist.
County leaders narrowly approved a measure to suspend all in-person dining and other measures beginning Nov. 25 as COVID-19 cases surged and hospitalizations increased. The restrictions have been met with fierce opposition from the restaurant industry, which has been severely impacted the closures.
Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco-based attorney that sued Gov. Gavin Newsom over school closures, said such resistive measures have been made at the literal expense of restaurant owners.
"What's really tragic in Los Angeles is that the city really forced hundreds of businesses to spend tens of thousands of dollars each in building these elaborate outdoor facilities... only to just arbitrarily shut them down," she told FOX Business.
Many owners have expressed fear they may have to close permanently if the closures continue.
Dave Foldes, the co-founder and owner of five Cronies Sports Grill locations in Southern California, isn't just thinking about himself and the financial toll he faces. He's also thinking about all the people he employs -- especially as Christmas nears.
"If we don't fight now it's going to be so much more difficult to battle this in the future," Foldes told FOX Business. "You think this is tough now? It's going to be harder later."
Fox Business' Daniella Genovese contributed to this report.