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Judge clarifies that exemption to COVID-19 restrictions applies to restaurants in county; state plans appeal

A judge's ruling means restrictions that limited restaurants to takeout service are, for the moment, no longer applicable.
A San Diego County judge’s ruling means restrictions in place that limited restaurants to providing takeout service are, for the moment, no longer applicable.
(File)

The ruling by Judge Joel Wohlfeil is welcomed by restaurant owners, but most remain cautious.

A San Diego County Superior Court judge made it clear Dec. 17 that an injunction he issued the day before that stopped state and local officials from enforcing the COVID-19 shutdown on two strip clubs also applies to all restaurants in the county.

The clarification by Judge Joel Wohlfeil came in response to a morning request by San Diego County and state lawyers, who sought to clear up ambiguity in Wohlfeil’s ruling in a case filed by adult entertainment clubs Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club.

A Superior Court judge ruled the state and county are prohibited from enforcing the order against two San Diego strip clubs.

Wohlfeil wrote that the order applies to the two clubs and added “San Diego County businesses with restaurant services.” No restaurants were plaintiffs in the clubs’ case.

During a brief hearing Dec. 17, Wohlfeil said, “The court’s intention is all businesses which provide restaurant services in the county of San Diego are encompassed in the court’s order.”

The state is appealing the ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal, according to San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Jason Saccuzzo, a lawyer for Pacers. The state is likely to ask for a stay, which would halt the impact of Wohlfeil’s ruling until the appeal can be heard.

The judge’s ruling means restrictions in place that limited restaurants to providing takeout service are, for the moment, no longer applicable. County officials announced late Dec. 16 that they would no longer enforce restrictions against restaurants and live entertainment venues.

The judge said neither the state nor the county had provided sufficient evidence that restaurants and live entertainment venues operating with safety measures in place contributed to the spread of COVID-19 or the impact on hospital intensive care units, and the restrictions could not be justified.

While the injunction was good news for restaurant owners, who have been hit hard by the closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, several contacted Dec. 17 by The San Diego Union-Tribune were cautious. Of eight restaurant operators contacted, only one was preparing to reopen.

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Pam Kragen contributed to this report.