Restaurants in the Gaslamp on Fifth Avenue set up dining in the street. Photo by Chris Stone

An appeals court Friday stayed a judge’s preliminary injunction halting enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions against San Diego County restaurants, meaning eateries must again abide by the state’s regional stay-at-home order, at least for now.

Lawyers for the state filed the emergency challenge to San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil’s preliminary injunction, which was issued Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by two San Diego strip clubs that the judge ultimately ruled could remain open.

Wohlfeil’s ruling also encompassed all restaurants in the county and all businesses that provide “restaurant service.”

Three justices from the Fourth District Court of Appeals, District One, read and considered the order and stayed the injunction “pending further order of this court.” The court ordered any oppositions to the state’s filing to be submitted by noon Wednesday, according to an appeals court docket.

Lawyers from the state argued that Wohlfeil overreached in his ruling, as no restaurants were parties in the suit.

Meanwhile, the county Board of Supervisors met in closed session Friday afternoon to discuss legal options regarding the judge’s ruling, and ultimately voted to join the state in its appeal.

A statement from Board of Supervisor Chairman Greg Cox said the board would only direct county attorneys to argue against the portion of Wohlfeil’s ruling that applies to strip clubs’ continued operation and allowing indoor dining.

“We support outdoor dining with appropriate safety protocols that have been previously established,” Cox’s statement read. “We remind everyone that the virus is still out there. Please continue to cover your face, wash your hands and avoid gatherings.”

In a statement released early Friday evening, Supervisor Jim Desmond decried the appeals court’s ruling.

“Today’s decision to close restaurants one day after they were allowed to open is tragic for San Diego’s workforce,” Desmond said. “The seesawing of people’s livelihoods one week before Christmas is devastating.”

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher took the opposite stance, contending in a prepared statement that the “massive rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations” makes it necessary for government leaders to “make difficult decisions to slow the spread of the virus.”

“This is the right decision to protect our communities given the severity of cases and hospitalizations we are experiencing in San Diego County,” said Fletcher, co-chairman of San Diego County’s COVID-19 Subcommittee. “Everyone should stay home unless it is absolutely essential.”

Fletcher said he “vehemently” disagreed with Wohlfeil’s ruling and called the Board of Supervisors vote “a positive step.”

– From staff and wire reports

Updated 9:40 p.m. Dec. 18, 2020

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