Two Los Angeles County Supervisors represent the Valley area. One of them understands the challenges of business operators. The other doesn’t seem to get it.
That became clear recently when the supervisors voted 3-2 to allow the shutdown of outdoor dining for at least three weeks at Los Angeles County restaurants in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys along with eastern San Fernando Valley, voted against the shutdown. Not only is there no evidence that outdoor dining is contributing to the spread of the coronavirus, but she expressed deep concern that the shutdown would rough up already struggling restaurants and financially hurt their remaining employees.
Sheila Kuehl, who represents central and western San Fernando Valley and the Conejo area up to the Ventura County line, voted to allow the shutdown of outdoor dining. She called it a “a most dangerous situation” because diners take off their masks to eat. She expressed scant concern about how her decision will hurt restaurants.
Well, she did have concern about her favorite restaurant. Kuehl was caught several hours after the vote eating outdoors at a trattoria named Il Forno in Santa Monica. Her office later put out a statement apparently trying to explain it away by saying, “she loves Il Forno, has been saddened to see it, like so many restaurants, suffer from a decline in revenue.”
To be sure, Kuehl broke no rules eating at the restaurant since the ban had not yet gone into effect. But she’s the one who claimed outdoor dining was “dangerous” and then rushed out to cram down one last meal. She may as well have put out a statement – perhaps with Claude Rains’ image on it – saying she was shocked – shocked! – to discover there is outdoor dining in Los Angeles.
Back to the bigger point: Barger but not Kuehl understands that the new shutdown is devastating to restaurants. Not just Il Forno.
Think about it. Early on, restaurants were scapegoated and forced to close, except for carry-out. Eventually they were “allowed” to open outdoors because the coronavirus doesn’t spread easily outside. That meant they got maybe 30 percent of their revenue with 80 percent of the costs. Now, after many of them spent thousands or tens of thousands to create outdoor dining space, unelected bureaucrats in the county’s health department decided to shut down outdoor dining without citing evidence that it is causing undue spread. And three of the five county supervisors voted to uphold that ban, shrugging off the destruction they are thrusting onto restaurants and their employees.
At the time of the vote, Barger put out a statement saying that the shutdown “will further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year. Businesses throughout the county have invested thousands of dollars to ensure safety for their employees and customers only to be punished for the recent surge they have done everything in their power to prevent.”
Barger was later quoted in articles saying the public health department has said more than 50 percent of the new positive COVID cases originated from private gatherings – which likely will increase now that people cannot meet in safer outdoor dining areas.
“It’s frustrating to me that we are doing something that has no correlation to the surge, none,” Barger was quoted as saying.
“If anything, we have basically put a final nail in many of these restaurants’ coffins,” she added.
Barger went on to say: “I think we’ve become a society that lets government dictate what we do without asking questions. And I’m telling you, as someone who is in government, but also is very much involved with the private sector, question government, do not assume that what they’re saying is always right.”
Yes, Barger gets it. Operating a business entails a lot of hard work and financial risk, and now restaurants are being casually devastated because of decisions without a clear rationale. I mean, before you imperil thousands of businesses and crush a million dreams, shouldn’t you be pretty sure of what you’re doing? Kuehl, the Valley’s other supervisor, doesn’t seem to get that.
I’m waiting for Kuehl to put out a statement, perhaps with Marie Antoinette’s picture on it, saying “Oh, these whining business owners. Let them eat cake.”