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Judge: Los Angeles County Acted 'Arbitrarily' In Patio Dining Ban

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - Los Angeles County acted "arbitrarily" and failed to provide "rational'' justification in its health order to close all outdoor dining at restaurants in response to COVID-19, a judge ruled Tuesday in a ruling that will not immediately impact the county's ban.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant noted in the 53-page tentative ruling that the county ``failed to perform the required risk-benefit analysis'' before enacting the ban.

"It was a relief," said Dario Vullo, who owns Nando Trattoria in Manhattan Beach. "I completely understand closing indoor, it makes sense. But outdoor? With the breeze and the circulation of air, there's no reason to shut down outdoor."

Vullo's wife works in a hospital on the front lines.

While noting that officials demonstrated a surge in COVID-19 cases was "burdening the health care system and action is necessary", Chalfant also said the county has presented "generalized evidence" of transmission risk from outdoor dining.

The judge also noted the county's claim that the virus can be spread in restaurants by patrons spending extended periods of time without masks "only weakly supports the closure of outdoor restaurant dining, because it ignores the outdoor nature of the activity, which the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says carries only a moderate risk, and less with mitigations."

As part of the ruling, L.A. County is prohibited from imposing its dining ban beyond the original three-week time period, which ends Dec. 16 - even though the state's order at a minimum will be in place until Dec. 27.

"The judge said that it is a failure of government that nobody has done any research that outdoor dining significantly contributes to a rise in COVID-19 cases," said Alexandra Kazarian, an attorney representing restaurants.

County officials issued the health order prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. Since then, restaurants have been allowed only to offer delivery or takeout services.

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