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My Side: Restaurant dining wins in court, but it’s not over

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

It wasn’t that long ago that I was ready to write a column about how the outdoor serving restrictions were too harsh and it was time for a change. When the daily infection rate in L.A. County kept rising, I figured it was an anomaly and would go back down. A vaccine was about to become available, people knew the importance of wearing a mask and we were on our way to finally ridding our communities of this ugly virus. Right?

Then like a blast of cold wind in the face, the county started seeing daily new infection numbers above 4,500, high enough to kick in new stay-at-home restrictions. But the virus didn’t stop there. Soon we had numbers above 5,000, then 6,000, 7,000, 8,000, 9,000, and finally, the current record of 10,528 cases on December 6. New case numbers have been hovering around 8.500 daily since then.

Following close behind were the hospitalization numbers, leaving ICU beds filled nearly  to capacity. What does that mean? If you are seriously ill or injured, there’s a chance your local hospital cannot help. We are at a point where county hospitals are swamped. On Wednesday, there were ambulance lines to get into the ER at some area hospitals.

Mixed into this mess are Claremont restaurants, desperate to start serving again. We’re all tired of living in a sick zone with a serious case of virus-itis. We all want to help our local businesses. But since a small group of restaurant owners has decided to continue serving in-person diners during stay-at-home orders, Claremonters are seriously divided on how and whom to help.

To make this issue more confusing, a judge ruled this week that health officials did not prove the danger of outdoor dining was actually worse than the impact of closed restaurants. With no risk assessment, it was impossible to determine which option was the best choice. So the L.A. County ban has been dropped, but the state still has a ban in place as part of stay-at-home orders until December 27 for all of California. The state ban supersedes the county policy—county and local restrictions can be more strict than those implemented by the state, but not less so.

“The COURIER will publish links to that petition when it goes live.” This was the last sentence in Steven Felschundneff’s story on November 27 about local restaurants defying the outdoor dining ban. The petition included a list of people who support these restaurants.

But there were a few readers who were concerned that the COURIER was supporting the petition or promoting what some consider to be illegal activities. How a simple reference to future coverage—a promo technique we use in every edition—became “pledged to publicize,” may simply be too much reading between the lines. But the COURIER does not want anyone to be confused by our stories, so we should have done a better job with the wording, given the sensitive nature of the issue.

The COURIER is in business to provide information to our readers—readers who are fully capable of deciding about a petition. And since a judge has now ruled that health officials overstepped their authority, the L.A. County dining ban is no longer in place. So actually, the line in question from our story was accurate. There are no ethical concerns on what ought to be published.

Although we still won’t support the restaurant petition, that will not stop us from writing future stories utilizing all helpful, accurate sources. This crazy, confusing situation will probably change again after additional court rulings this month.

But what is the real cost to restaurants for ignoring serving restrictions? One word: customers.

COVID-19 is a serious issue, and residents are watching closely how the pandemic is being managed by the city, state, businesses, individuals and even the COURIER. Residents are making lists of restaurants that comply, and especially those that don’t. Some plan to boycott, or to simply spend their money patronizing only those who follow the rules. Restaurants that continue to serve in-person diners clearly help their bottom line now, but the cost may be  enormous in customer goodwill, given that a large block of customers may never come back.

There was a county health inspector sighting in the Village on Tuesday. It’s hard to know whether L.A. County will enforce a state ban vs. a county ban. Either way, I hope restaurant owners are careful. They are playing with the future of their businesses.

 

COURIER updates 2021

Our plans for the nonprofit Claremont COURIER, Inc. are moving slowly, but they are moving. We are three months away from IRS approval if our application is accepted. Even with a few other media companies going nonprofit, each business is unique and different. However, we are quite confident the COURIER will be nonprofit by spring 2021.

Starting in January, we will begin the work of creating the best community news website on the planet. We hired Claremont’s own tech company, Culture Cube, to guide us through the website redesign and content upgrades. Our goal is to create a single website that connects readers to everything Claremont. And, of course, our print edition will continue to be published every Friday. This project will take four to five months to complete. We will also be hiring for new positions next year to support these initiatives.

This is all part of our plan to reinvent the COURIER, but to also acknowledge what works and needs little change. Let me once again reassure our readers, I remain committed—and downright excited—about the future of the Claremont COURIER.

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