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‘Devastating’: La Jolla businesses react to state’s new regional coronavirus restrictions

Outdoor restaurant seating must close under new state-mandated restrictions for Southern California.
(File)

“Frustrating” and “devastating” were words used repeatedly by La Jolla merchants to describe the state’s new order imposing expanded coronavirus-related restrictions mandating closures of all onsite restaurant dining, museums, aquariums, playgrounds and salons throughout Southern California.

The rules, which took effect late Dec. 6 in response to the region’s hospital intensive care capacity dropping below 15 percent amid soaring cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, also limit indoor retail capacity to 20 percent. The restrictions must stay in place for at least three weeks, regardless of ICU capacity.

The new restrictions for the Southern California region go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, and must stay in place for at least three weeks because the region’s intensive care capacity has dropped below 15 percent.

The Southern California region, as designated by the state, includes San Diego, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Inyo and Mono counties.

As of Dec. 7, the region’s ICU capacity was 10.9 percent. Taken alone, San Diego County had 24 percent of its ICU beds available Dec. 7. State officials update each region’s ICU capacity daily on the covid19.ca.gov website.

Counties can move back to their place in the colored tier system of California’s coronavirus reopening framework when the state’s internal projections find the situation is not likely to worsen in the next four weeks. San Diego County has been in the most restrictive purple tier, which allowed hair and nail salons to be open indoors and restaurants and places like museums, zoos and aquariums to operate outdoors.

Under the new order, salons, museums, zoos and aquariums must close, and restaurants can be open only for takeout and delivery, like they were under the state’s spring stay-at-home order early in the pandemic.

Indoor capacity for retail stores and shopping centers drops to 20 percent from the purple tier’s 25 percent. Grocery stores can operate at 35 percent indoor capacity — down from 50 percent, which had been in effect statewide since the beginning of the pandemic.

Rules for gyms and places of worship don’t change, as they can still operate outdoors, and schools that have already reopened for in-person instruction can remain open. Parks and beaches also can stay open, though playgrounds must close.

What will change under regional stay-at-home orders
This chart shows differences between Tier 1, or purple tier, restrictions and those under the state’s new stay-at-home order.

‘A shame’

Phil Wise, who oversees the La Jolla Shores Association’s outdoor dining program, which has closed one block of Avenida de la Playa to vehicle traffic since July to allow restaurants struggling during the pandemic to set up tables on the street, said the new shutdown of outdoor dining is “a shame, but that’s the price we have to pay” due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in area intensive care units.

The restaurants along Avenida de la Playa plan to keep the tables outdoors during the shutdown, Wise said, since removing them would be “a big hassle; restaurants don’t have anywhere to store it.”

The city is still requiring a security guard to move the metal barricades blocking the street should an emergency vehicle require access, Wise said. The guard is paid for by the restaurants at a cost of $200 per night.

Kirstin Carter and Blake Hamerslag, who own Barbarella, one of the restaurants in The Shores program, are “devastated that we have to close down our dine-in service again,” Carter said. “We have made so many efforts over the past months to create a COVID-safe environment for our customers and employees.”

Carter said she and Hamerslag “have been doing our best to be safe and lift spirits, from comfortable and distanced outdoor and street dining areas to joyful holiday decor. We are disappointed that our efforts seem to be dismissed as we are closed down yet again.”

Barbarella remains open for takeout dinners, Carter said. “We need our community’s support so that we can continue to do what we love and feed our people with good food, strong drinks and joyful spirits.”

At The Cottage restaurant in The Village, owner Jason Peaslee said the closures are “very upsetting.”

“Hundreds of people go through The Cottage every day, and none of my employees or customers have gotten COVID from The Cottage.” he said. “We all follow the correct procedures.”

Peaslee said the closures are “really frustrating” given that large retail stores, where he said he’s seen people without face masks, are allowed to stay open. “Why is that OK and it’s not OK to come here and sit outdoors?” he said.

The Cottage will still offer takeout Fridays through Sundays, he said.

Wheat & Water in Bird Rock also is feeling the strain of “another lose-lose situation,” said owner Doug Ritz. “While we are incredibly grateful and appreciate every single one of our customers, the hard truth is that we can’t survive on takeout and gift card orders alone.”

Ritz urged people to “call your local, state and federal representatives and ask how they plan to step up and deliver meaningful support.”

Sylvie Diot, owner of Bistro du Marché in The Village, said “closing again for outdoor dining is a gymnastics of the mind, a yo-yo year. Our staff members, from kitchen to servers, have put so much energy and dedication to their work that I want to salute them for their commitment.”

Diot said the restaurant will continue to offer takeout and delivery.

Hair salon owners are being required to close their doors for the third time this year. Sherri Belanger, owner of Belle Serene Salon in The Village, said the latest closure is “devastating.”

Since reopening in June, Belle Serene has served more than 1,800 guests with no outbreaks of the coronavirus, Belanger said. Staff has been “going above and beyond” to follow public health guidelines. “It’s a shame that’s not recognized,” she said.

“Each time we reopen, it’s like we’re rebuilding,” with new assistants hired each time, she said. Many of them — “people who rely on tips, working their way up,” don’t qualify for unemployment benefits when the salon is forced to close again, she said.

Alli Hayes, who owns Waylon Salon & Boutique in Bird Rock, said she’s had to lay off her employees. She’s received some financial support from the county and the city of San Diego, but nothing from the state, which ordered the closures, she said.

The order also has forced plans for some local holiday events to change.

With the pandemic keeping many of us home for coronavirus-restricted holidays, some of the signature special events in the La Jolla area have migrated online, outdoors or to other adaptations to provide ways to celebrate the season.

Birch Aquarium — which planned to host its “Seas ‘n’ Greetings” celebration outdoors with seasonal music and decor through December — has closed to the public for a minimum of three weeks.

“We have not announced our plans for if we are able to reopen for the last few days of Seas ‘n’ Greetings,” said marketing director Beth Chee.

La Valencia Hotel will shift to a delivery-based format for its holiday teas and dinners. The menus for the teas and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals will be available to order through opentable.com and can be picked up for home consumption.

The hotel itself remains open “while following the travel restrictions detailed in the region’s latest stay-at-home order,” according to marketing manager Annalise Dewhurst. The order says hotels can stay open to support “critical infrastructure sectors” but not for leisure and other reasons deemed nonessential.

Other boutique hotels, such as Scripps Inn, Pantai Inn and Estancia La Jolla, did not immediately respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment.

La Jolla Presbyterian Church’s live and outdoor Christmas concert will proceed as planned at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, citing a religious service exemption. The free concert in the courtyard at 7715 Draper Ave. will feature socially distanced seating and require guests to wear masks.

“We are also planning on going forward with three outdoor Christmas Eve services on Dec. 24,” said the Rev. Jim Sedgewick. “The current plan is to offer an outdoor 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. service that will be about 45 minutes long. ... We will also be offering online options, which remain very popular. This has been a year of pivoting, so all these plans are flexible. Lots of things could happen.”

— The Los Angeles Times and City News Service contributed to this report.