On Friday, restaurants across San Diego County reopened their doors following a preliminary injunction granted Wednesday by San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil.
Judge Wohlfeil had ordered that two San Diegan strip clubs, as well as as all “San Diego County businesses with restaurant service that will be subject to protocols that are no greater than is essential to further defendants response to control the spread of COVID.”
The ruling caused the state to rush an emergency hearing on Thursday in an attempt to work around the ruling to keep lockdown orders in place, but Judge Wohlfeil clarified that the order would still apply to all restaurants in the County.
“The court’s intention is that all businesses which provide restaurant service, meaning all restaurants in the county of San Diego, are encompassed within the scope of the court’s order,” explained the Judge on Thursday.
The order had immediate effects on the County, with SD County officials halting all state enforcement of state restaurant restrictions, essentially making all open for business as long as COVID-19 health rules, such as face masks, social distancing, and other measures are still in place.
Many, including the state and city leaders such as San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria were against the ruling, with the state already appealing the decision.
“We expect the state to appeal, as soon as today,” said the County on Thursday. “As we said, we will not enforce until the matter is decided. Our board meets tomorrow in closed session to determine what our next steps may be.”
Mayor Gloria gave strong words after the ruling was announced, vowing to work with the state over the restaurants now being legally open and pleading with residents to stay at home as much as possible.
“No one wants our small businesses to be closed, but the science and data are showing a dire trend in hospitalizations and deaths,” said Mayor Gloria on Thursday. “Over 1,200 have died in San Diego County and the ICU capacity in Southern California has dropped to zero. We have a collective obligation to accept the personal responsibility of keeping each other safe. The health of our local economy hinges on the health of San Diegans.”
County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher also weighed in on the ruling on Friday, saying that ” The ruling is fundamentally wrong. This could be a devastating blow at a point where we are entering our darkest days and darkest hours.”
Approval of the ruling in San Diego County
However, many also celebrated the ruling, with many restaurants opening their doors on Friday. Many, with the exception of COVID-19 rules, were almost back to pre-pandemic openness , with customers also coming out for meals.
“This is a victory for the working people in San Diego County,” said County Supervisor Jim Desmond on Friday.
Some state politicians also agreed with the ruling.
“Businesses with restaurant service are essential to our communities. Thank you to Judge Wohlfeil for acknowledging these shutdown orders are not grounded in evidence and allowing restaurants to reopen,” noted Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee).
Restaurant owners told the Globe that they were excited to have their doors open for the first time in a long time on Friday.
“There are people inside for once,” said San Diego restaurant owner Juan Taylor on Friday told the Globe. “We, for so long, either had people only outside and takeout, and I honestly can’t remember when we had people eat inside.
“And, well, we can only really do every other table, and everyone is wearing masks and gloves, but you know, things are looking up.”
Another, restaurant manager Lydia Hooper, told the Globe a similar story.
“Our employees have been worried about their jobs for most of the year. They were wondering about being around during Christmas and being able to afford gifts for Christmas and Hanukah. And, well, this may not be the perfect gift, but it’s a sigh of relief at least. Employees know they’ll be fine for at least a bit more and everyone on up knows that money will finally start coming in more normally.
“This was a bit unexpected, but it’s such a big help to us. We are all concerned about COVID, but it really is saving us.”
Despite the reopenings on Friday, the state is currently appealing the ruling, arguing against the reopening over many factors, first and foremost being public safety and health risks.
“I don’t have high hopes that this injunction will stay in place for very long,” explained San Diego County lawyer Chip Greene to the Globe. “It’s seen by many as more of a ‘rogue’ decision. A lot of restaurants are actually operating on this being a short ‘vacation’ of sorts away from the law. This will only last a few weeks. Maybe.”
An appeal to Judge Wohlfeil’s decision is expected to be in court in the coming weeks.
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