Many La Jolla eateries say they’re heeding rules against onsite dining as S.D. mayor orders more enforcement

Beaumont's in Bird Rock has switched to a drive-through format in response to a regional shutdown of in-person dining.
Beaumont’s restaurant in Bird Rock has switched to a drive-through format in response to a regional shutdown of in-person dining.

The day after new San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria signed an executive order for more enforcement of coronavirus-related health orders, many La Jolla restaurants said they are complying with state and local mandates to close onsite dining.

Gloria’s order went into effect late Dec. 30, just before midnight. Gloria also urged people not to gather for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“I have ordered the San Diego Police Department and asked the city attorney to pursue fines and potentially other enforcement action against public nuisances who choose to endanger the lives of others and blatantly and egregiously defy the provision of state and county public health orders,” Gloria said.

Two weeks earlier, some La Jolla restaurants reopened in-person dining after a Dec. 16 ruling by a San Diego County Superior Court judge briefly allowed it. A state appeals court halted Judge Joel Wohlfeil’s ruling Dec. 18 and extended the stay five days later, pending oral arguments Jan. 19.

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.

Gloria’s order also suspends most parking enforcement throughout the city to encourage people to follow the state’s stay-at-home order, which took effect late Dec. 6 and this week was extended until the Southern California region’s hospital intensive care capacity reaches at least 15 percent.

The stay-at-home order mandates closures of onsite restaurant dining, museums, movie theaters, aquariums, zoos, salons and personal care services, limits indoor retail capacity to 20 percent and keeps gyms and places of worship outdoors.

“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.

Parking enforcement will be suspended for meter violations, time-limited parking, yellow commercial zones and short-term green zones. Red, white and blue parking zones will continue to be enforced to maintain public safety, Gloria said.

Fabio Speziali, who owns Osteria Romantica in La Jolla Shores, said Dec. 31 that his restaurant has been closed to in-person dining since shortly after the state appellate court ruling Dec. 18. “We are ... to-go only for the near future,” he said.

Doug Ritz, owner of Wheat & Water in Bird Rock — which, like Osteria Romantica, opened onsite dining following Wohlfeil’s ruling — did not respond to a request for comment.

Megan Heine, co-owner of Beaumont’s in Bird Rock and Brockton Villa in The Village, said the health orders and court rulings, along with the many decisions to close, reopen and close again, are “all very distressing without financial support to pay our rent, bills and employee benefits ... and restaurants operating safely are being unfairly targeted.”

Heine said Beaumont’s is now drive-through only for takeout, and Brockton Villa is closed, “as takeout only is not viable.”

An automated message at Karl Strauss’ La Jolla location indicates it is open for to-go dining, and its website says the Wall Street brewpub has “temporarily ceased onsite dining and will continue to provide to-go dining and delivery service only.” It cites the recent state order, not the mayor’s executive order.

When asked whether there is onsite dining, a Karl Strauss employee said, “We are doing to-go orders, but I can’t say anything else.”

A representative of Westfield UTC said the shopping center could not immediately comment on plans for its shops and restaurants.

Jason Peaslee, who owns The Cottage in The Village, declined to comment.

Sugar & Scribe on Fay Avenue spent $8,000 to create an expansive “parklet” for outdoor seating — including heaters, fans and improved sanitation materials — but is not currently hosting onsite dining, according to owner and chef Maeve Rochford.

“That’s an absolute no,” Rochford said. “We are offering to-go [and] we are trying to transition to offering delivery, shipping, corporate lunches, Zoom cooking classes, baking classes … growing our bread program. But we will stay in full compliance. We will follow the rules, even through the heartbreak.”

Jose’s Court Room on Prospect Street has been offering takeout only since restaurants were told to cease indoor operations in November.

“We have an outdoor waiting area where people stand to get their food, and we have some tables back there so if people want to sit down, that’s on them,” said Jose’s manager Byron Mecias. “But we are just doing takeout.”

Police have been reluctant to issue citations and conduct other enforcement of public health orders on a large scale. For most of the pandemic, they have focused mainly on educating people to achieve compliance, issuing citations to the most blatant violators.

Across San Diego County, police officers and sheriff’s deputies issued about 430 coronavirus-related citations between April and mid-November, according to data obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune. The vast majority of those — 393 — were issued in April by the San Diego Police Department, the county Sheriff’s Department and Carlsbad Police Department.

The San Diego Police Department issued at least 168 citations between April and July 5, the most recent data available. Police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said very few citations have been issued over the past several months — likely less than 10.

A violation of the public health order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail.

The Sheriff’s Department recently leaned into enforcement efforts as coronavirus case counts have surged and hospitals have filled throughout the county.

Sheriff Bill Gore said in November that he would allocate eight full-time deputies to help investigate health order complaints and quickly cite people who don’t comply.

Recently the county health department stepped up issuing cease-and-desist letters to noncompliant businesses and organizations. ◆