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A group of California wineries and restaurants sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state public health officer this week in an effort to overturn the state’s ban on outdoor dining and wine tasting.

The Wine Country Coalition for Safe Reopening, a group of more than 50 businesses in Napa and Sonoma counties, alleged in the lawsuit that California’s ban “is arbitrary, irrational and unfair,” and that it has hurt local businesses and thousands of workers who lost their jobs.

California added new COVID-19 restrictions in early December amid rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The state hit a high of more than 45,000 new cases reported in Dec. 18, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The restaurants and wineries bringing the new case against the state said they were unfairly targeted without scientific evidence while other indoor businesses like retailers were allowed to continue operating “with little regulation.”

A group of California wineries and restaurants sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state public health officer this week in an effort to overturn the state’s ban on outdoor dining and wine tasting. (iStock)

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If state officials had assessed data on outdoor dining or wine tasting, “they would have found no scientific evidence indicating that when conducted with protective measures, it contributes to the spread of COVID at all,” the lawsuit alleges. “To the contrary, a growing body of scientific literature indicates the opposite.”

Carl Dene of Sam’s General Store, a member of the Wine Country Coalition, said that the business owners do support the state’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, noting that they have “collectively invested millions of dollars to operate safely for our customers and employees.”

“All we ask is to be treated fairly and in accordance with the science,” Dene said in a written statement. “Though the data shows we can operate outdoors safely, our state officials continue to shut us down while trusting big-box retail stores to operate in much riskier indoor settings.”

The Wine Country Coalition for Safe Reopening is a group of more than 50 businesses in Napa and Sonoma counties. 
(iStock)

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The state order bans dining establishments from providing any on-site service, indoor or outdoor. Businesses are only allowed to provide curbside pickup, takeaway or delivery services. The order was issued in communities where available hospital ICU capacity fell below 15%.

Anyone caught defying the order could face fines, the loss of their business license and other penalties, according to the state.

Newsom said at the time of the order that he was “clear-eyed that this is hard on all of us – especially our small businesses who are struggling to get by,” and promised more grants and tax relief to help them.

“If we stay home as much as possible, and wear masks when we have to go to the doctor, shop for groceries or go for a hike, California can come out of this in a way that saves lives and puts us on a path toward economic recovery,” Newsom previously said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom added new COVID-19 restrictions in early December amid rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

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This is not the first lawsuit brought against California officials over dining bans amid the coronavirus pandemic. The owner of one restaurant in Sherman Oaks also filed a suit last month over the outdoor dining ban, alleging it was “a gross abuse of their power.” And a judge previously ruled in favor of a group of Los Angeles restaurants who challenged a county outdoor dining ban in November, though an appeal is pending. But this appears to be largest case raised so far against state officials over the ban.

In the meantime, business owners said the ban is costing them. Anthony “Nash” Cognetti, executive chef and founder of wine country event space Tre Posti, said he lost out on an estimated $3.5 million in gross revenue last year.

“The latest shutdowns have forced us to lay off 95 valuable staff members, and it’s devastating to consider what this has meant for them and their families,” Cognetti said. “If we make it through the dining ban, we fear there won’t be enough local industry workers left to rebuild our staff.”

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