Outdoor dining on Fifth Avenue in July. Photo by Chris Stone

A group of 11 state senators from both sides of the aisle asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to move restaurants into the “essential” category and permit them to reopen statewide, despite the current public health lockdown.

“We ask that you immediately reclassify the restaurant industry as critical infrastructure before more damage is done,” the lawmakers said in their letter. “As it is becoming obvious to Californians, these essential businesses do more than simply provide a place to eat. Restaurants are active participants in local neighborhoods, providing meals to senior citizens and working with food banks to feed families struggling to put food on their tables.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among the petitioners, who submitted their letter Friday, were Sen. Brian Jones who represents East County and Sen. Patricia Bates, whose district includes parts of North County.

“We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to reclassify restaurants as essential businesses and adopt the industry’s protocols that would allow restaurants to operate safely,” the letter reads. “The future of thousands of restaurants, their employees and the unique character of our local communities are dependent on the survival of this industry.”

The petitioners pointed out that in 2019, 1.8 million jobs statewide were tied to the restaurant and food service industry. Roughly 60% of eateries are owned by people of color, and 50% are owned or partially owned by women, according to the lawmakers’ letter.

In San Diego, the Little Italy Association circulated a resolution calling for a resumption of outdoor dining. The resolution has been endorsed by over 125 restaurants, retailers and professional services and other organizations and submitted to the Board of Supervisors.

The California Restaurant Association last week prevailed in a case against Los Angeles County related to public health-mandated restaurant closures earlier this year. However, the industry has not filed suit challenging the governor’s decree.

The current closures are connected to Newsom’s limited stay-at-home order issued on Nov. 19, as well as the broader regional order he signed on Dec. 3, citing rapidly escalating coronavirus infection rates.

“The bottom line is, if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” he said. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see the death rate climb, more lives lost.”

— From Staff and Wire Reports

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.