Some La Jolla restaurants maintain onsite dining after conflicting court rulings

Beaumont's in Bird Rock
Beaumont’s in Bird Rock, which switched to a drive-through format after a regional closure order shut down in-person dining Dec. 7, reopened Dec. 17 for onsite dining following a county judge’s ruling. The next day, a state appeals court issued a stay of that ruling.

A stay issued by a state appeals court Dec. 18 that closed a window for in-person dining that was briefly opened by a lower court ruling left some La Jolla restaurants swinging their doors shut, while others left them open.

A Dec. 16 ruling and a clarification the next day from San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil in a lawsuit filed by two adult entertainment clubs said the state and county had not provided sufficient evidence that live entertainment venues and businesses with restaurant service operating with safety measures had contributed significantly to the spread of COVID-19.

The ruling appeared to strike down state-mandated restrictions that limited restaurants in the county to takeout and delivery.

Following a Dec. 16 ruling and a clarification the next day from a San Diego County Superior Court judge that coronavirus-related restrictions limiting restaurants to takeout service were no longer applicable, several La Jolla restaurants reopened for onsite dining service.

But a panel of the California 4th District Court of Appeal quickly issued a stay putting Wohlfeil’s ruling on hold in response to an emergency application from the state attorney general’s office for Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Department of Health. The state argued that immediate action was needed for public health while Wohlfeil’s injunction undergoes a full appeal.

The adult entertainment clubs — Pacers Showgirls International in the Midway District and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club in Kearny Mesa — have until Wednesday, Dec. 23, to file a response. No restaurants are plaintiffs in the clubs’ case.

State lawyers say the stay is needed to protect public health as the COVID-19 pandemic surges.

The stay means restaurants again are supposed to shut down onsite dining, both indoors and outdoors, which had been in effect since Dec. 7 after the state imposed new regional restrictions based on Southern California’s hospital intensive care capacity dropping below 15 percent.

Many reopened starting Dec. 17 after Wohlfeil’s ruling.

Wheat & Water in Bird Rock posted on Instagram Dec. 16 that it would be open for business starting the next day. “It’s unlawful to close us down when we wear masks, social-distance, wash hands and abide by every other law,” the post read. “Come dine with us.”

Wheat & Water owner Doug Ritz later told the La Jolla Light that “unfortunately, takeout order sales do not cover the costs of operating a full-service restaurant. Small businesses need help now. ... For now, we will take advantage of all permitted options to stay in business.”

A Dec. 19 Instagram post by Wheat & Water shows the Bird Rock restaurant welcoming diners onsite.
A Dec. 19 Instagram post by Wheat & Water shows the Bird Rock restaurant welcoming diners onsite.

Ritz did not respond to further requests for comment, but on Dec. 19 — the day after the appeals court decision — the restaurant posted on Instagram: “We’re open … come on in. We’re still rocking and rollin’.”

It confirmed for an online commenter that it was open for onsite dining.

Osteria Romantica in La Jolla Shores remained open for onsite dining.
Osteria Romantica in La Jolla Shores remained open for onsite dining.

Osteria Romantica in La Jolla Shores said Dec. 17 that it would be open for outdoor dining starting that night.

On Dec. 19, owner Fabio Speziali said the restaurant would remain open. “It is for sure safer to eat outdoors at my restaurant than going to Walmart or Home Depot,” he said. He called the appellate court’s stay “not a fair restriction [for] restaurants.”

La Valencia Hotel in The Village posted on Instagram on Dec. 17 that it would reopen dine-in service that day. General Manager Summer Shoemaker said in a statement to the Light that “we are delighted to bring back many of our restaurant team members to serve our dining community safely and we will continue to follow all COVID-19 cleaning and sanitation protocols. We will also continue to provide to-go dining for guests to enjoy in the comfort of their homes.”

However, on Dec. 19 a hotel representative said it was “adjusting services according to the recent ruling.”

Megan Heine, owner of Beaumont’s in Bird Rock, which had implemented drive-through service in response to the regional closure order, said last week that the restaurant would keep the drive-through and offer outside tables starting Dec. 17.

Heine, who also owns Brockton Villa in The Village, said Brockton Villa would reopen Dec. 19 for outside dining.

Heine did not respond to requests for comment after the appeals court ruling, and no one answered the phone at either restaurant the afternoon of Dec. 21.

Catania in The Village posted Dec. 18 on Instagram that it was choosing to keep its seating closed. “At this time, we are not open for dine-in service,” the post read. “Our first priority is the health and safety of our guests and our team and we want to make sure that any decisions made reflect that.”

“For now we will wait patiently for a better idea of what this all means and how to navigate what comes next without having to repeat it all over again,” the post added.

In a Dec. 21 Instagram post, Catania announced it will temporarily close after Dec. 23, including takeout and delivery, through “the first part of the new year for a well-deserved break.”

The week before the rulings were announced, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association distributed an online petition started by restaurateurs and retailers in Little Italy asking that outdoor dining resume at facilities that can safely offer it. LJVMA Executive Director Jodi Rudick encouraged business owners to sign.

“On behalf of the merchants in La Jolla and the over 7,000 San Diego County residents employed in La Jolla Village prior to COVID-19, we would like to add our support of this resolution,” a summary statement reads.

“Many of our merchants went to great expense to meet necessary state, city and [Centers for Disease Control] requirements to offer and build out outdoor dining and shopping options since the city of San Diego released its temporary outdoor business permit program for COVID-19. Further, the city of San Diego recently released a memo extending these permits through September 2021, which sparked new interest and investment in the program for additional merchants in recent weeks.

“The governor’s recent stay-at-home orders have shut down these outdoor dining expansions at a crucial time for our merchants, also shutting down their ability to recoup costs associated with expansions.

“Our businesses will continue to follow guidelines and safety measures as required by the safe opening plans the county put in place previously. We understand there is a surge in COVID cases but see no evidence that outdoor business expansions have led to the surge.”

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said in a statement Dec. 21 that “an appeals court has blocked the initial judge’s ruling. This means that as law-abiding citizens and business owners, onsite operations are not allowed and Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home order is in full effect.”

“That being said, we can (and should) still support our local businesses even if we are unable to engage with them in person,” he added. “I highly encourage our residents to shop, dine and gift locally, even if that looks like takeout or a gift card at the moment.”

— La Jolla Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon and The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.