‘This is crazy’: Restaurants again must abide by state’s stay-at-home order

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO – An appeals court Friday stayed a judge’s decision to halt enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions against San Diego County restaurants, meaning eateries must again abide by the state’s regional stay-at-home order, at least for now.

Empty tables are shown at a restaurant in San Diego’s Little Italy area on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. An appeals court Friday stayed a judge’s decision to halt enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions against San Diego County restaurants, meaning eateries must again abide by the state’s regional stay-at-home order.

For restaurants, it means returning back to holding only takeout and delivery service, a letdown for some who’d anticipated drawing in diners ahead of the holiday season.

“This is crazy,” said Cesar Vallin, manager of Cloak and Petal, an eatery in Little Italy.

“It’s kind of — I have a numb feeling right now,” Barbusa manager Joey Busalacchi said.

Lawyers for the state filed the emergency challenge to San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil’s preliminary injunction, issued Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by two San Diego strip clubs Wohlfeil ultimately ruled could remain open.

Wohlfeil’s ruling also encompassed all restaurants in the county and all businesses that provide “restaurant service.”

Three justices from the Fourth District Court of Appeals, District One, read and considered the order and stayed the injunction “pending further order of this court.” The court ordered any oppositions to the state’s filing to be submitted by noon Wednesday, according to an appeals court docket.

Lawyers from the state argued that Wohlfeil overreached in his ruling, as no restaurants were parties in the suit initially filed in October by Cheetahs Gentleman’s Club and Pacers Showgirls International.

Meanwhile, the county Board of Supervisors met in closed session Friday afternoon to discuss legal options regarding Wohlfeil’s ruling, and ultimately voted to join the state in its appeal.

A statement from Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Cox said the board would only direct county attorneys to argue against the portion of Wohlfeil’s ruling that applies to strip clubs’ continued operation and allowing indoor dining.

“We support outdoor dining with appropriate safety protocols that have been previously established,” Cox’s statement read. “We remind everyone that the virus is still out there. Please continue to cover your face, wash your hands and avoid gatherings.”

Both Vallin and Busalacchi describe the past 10 months as a roller coaster, reaching the lowest points for businesses as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike in San Diego County and throughout much of the U.S.

“Don’t give people false hope by saying we’re open, we’re closed, we’re open, we’re closed,” Busalacchi said. “This is — it’s a tough pill to swallow.”

He noted that Barbusa just spent thousands of dollars to restock their inventory with plans to reopen this weekend. But he said that’s not even the worst of it.

“I feel for those people that got the call yesterday that said we were back to work and thinking, ‘Oh we’ll have some money for Christmas time’ and now they’re going home with nothing,” he said.

In a statement released early Friday evening, Supervisor Jim Desmond decried the appeals court’s ruling.

“Today’s decision to close restaurants one day after they were allowed to open is tragic for San Diego’s workforce,” Desmond said. “The seesawing of people’s livelihoods one week before Christmas is devastating.”

The sign for Little Italy in San Diego as it appeared on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher took the opposite stance, contending in a prepared statement that the “massive rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations” makes it necessary for government leaders to “make difficult decisions to slow the spread of the virus.”

“This is the right decision to protect our communities given the severity of cases and hospitalizations we are experiencing in San Diego County,” said Fletcher, co-chairman of San Diego County’s COVID-19 Subcommittee. “Everyone should stay home unless it is absolutely essential.”

Fletcher said he “vehemently” disagreed with Wohlfeil’s ruling and called the Board of Supervisors vote “a positive step.”

Vallin called the court’s ruling a major letdown. He’s not sure what their next move will be.

“I’m going to finish the day and reevaluate tomorrow and take it by there, but I’m not going to send everybody home after we just made everybody come in again,” he said. “The government is making decisions like it’s Monopoly money.”

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