L.A. restaurateur says politicians ‘living in la-la land’ as Covid measures hit

California is experiencing record numbers of new case and hospitalizations and the state has a new stay-at-home order coming into effect on Sunday evening that limits restaurants to takeout and delivery service.

Businesses across the US are feeling the brunt of Covid-19-related restrictions and the Los Angeles restaurant scene is no exception.

Los Angeles business owner Angela Marsden has been forced to close her restaurant in Sherman Oaks and she says restaurants and small businesses are being unfairly targeted by California’s stay-at-home order.
Marsden says she came to grab supplies from her closed restaurant, Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill, to attend a protest when she came across an outdoor dining area — almost identical to hers — set up next to her restaurant’s parking lot.
Upset by the situation, Marsden took to social media, posting a video to Facebook comparing the tables set up for a movie set to the covered outdoor seating area next to hers. “Tell me that this is dangerous (pointing to her own patio area) but right next to me as a slap in my face … this is safe?” Marsden said.
Under Los Angeles County guidelines, the film industry has been labeled as essential and television and film production has continued to operate.

“They have not given us money and they’ve shut us down. We cannot survive. My staff cannot survive,” Marsden said on Facebook.

‘No one likes these restrictions’

California reported a record daily high of 30,075 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, taking the state’s total to 1.3 million cases statewide since the pandemic began, according to the California Department of Public Health. Hospitalizations are also at an all-time high with 10,624 Covid-19 patients hospitalized on Sunday.

The state’s new stay-at-home order goes into effect Sunday at 11:59 p.m. PT for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley regions. The new restrictions are required if a region’s intensive care unit capacity drops below 15%.

As of Sunday, ICU capacity in Southern California, the state’s most populous region, had fallen to 10.3%, according to the state’s Covid-19 website.
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“My heart goes out to Ms. Marsden and the workers at the Pineapple Hill Saloon who have to comply with state and county public health restrictions that close outdoor dining,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement issued on Sunday.

“No one likes these restrictions, but I do support them as our hospital I.C.U. beds fill to capacity and cases have increased by 500%. We must stop this virus before it kills thousands of more Angelenos,” he said.

“The politicians are out of touch. It’s unjustifiable, they’re living in la-la land,” Marsden told CNN. “I spent $60-to-$80,000 on getting my restaurant prepared, ready to operate under their regulations during the pandemic. I make this investment, but I have no way of recouping it because I’m shut down again,” she said.

Marsden is not alone in her frustration. Restaurant and bar owners protested the closure of outdoor dining on Saturday outside the home of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, according to CNN affiliate KABC.
The protest came after some controversy erupted earlier in the week when Kuehl was seen dining outside at a restaurant just hours after voting to eliminate outdoor dining.

Forced to let staff go

In an interview with CNN Sunday, Marsden said that having to tell her staff to go was “unbearable.”

“I mean you try to put on a good face, you try to say ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to reopen, I’m going to make it happen,'” she said. “But to look at my staff given their last paycheck right before Christmas — and some of them are newer staff that have been shut down over and over and their unemployment is running out, and they have kids and children — it’s the most excruciating feeling. But you try to be strong and you try to give hope. Because people need hope.”

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Sunni Aceves is among the staff Marsden Is having to let go. She told CNN that she had been living on friends’ sofas since the start of the pandemic, when she had been managing a bar. Since then, she has been struggling to earn a living.

“It’s not out of lack of will or laziness to go out and get a job. I found another job, I found another job and I begged Angela for this job basically. And she told me ‘I’ll hire you — I don’t have a lot of anything for you right now.’ And I told her ‘I’ll clean tables for you, I’ll do the door for you — I’ll do anything,” Aceves said.

She said she couldn’t see a way of getting her own accommodation in the current situation and didn’t know what she’d do without those who are helping her.

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“There’s no options. There’s no options for our entire industry and it’s not because we’re trying to stay on unemployment and just sit on that. Mine’s almost out and I have no idea, I have no idea what I will do,” Aceves said.

Caroline Styne, a board member with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, told CNN that the impact of Covid-19 went far beyond the hospitality industry and into the broader US economy.

“This is a mass extinction event for restaurants throughout the country,” she said. “We employ 11 million people in the United States and we support 10 million other jobs in other industries including farming and fishing and ranching and food distribution and janitorial services on and on.”

The Restaurants Act

Styne, the wine director and co-founder of restaurant group The Lucques Group, was a founder of The Independent Restaurant Coalition, which was created to help save small restaurants and bars affected by the pandemic.
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“We are a huge supporter of other industries and the loss of the restaurant industry will be the most devastating to the US economy, I guarantee it,” Styne told CNN.

Like many other influential restauranteurs and entrepreneurs across the country, Styne supports the Restaurants Act of 2020, a congressional bill aimed at providing $120 billion in grants to revitalize the food and beverage industries.
The act was passed by the Democratic-controlled House in October as part of a $2.2 trillion stimulus relief package. But it has not been taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate. Talks between congressional leaders are continuing over a massive funding bill to keep the government open and on a Covid relief package, but it is unclear if the Restaurants Act will be part of any final relief package.
The restaurant coalition says that the Restaurants Act would help California restaurant owners during the pandemic.

“The unpredictability of the pandemic requires a longer term solution than a few weeks of payroll, as the situation in L.A. makes clear,” spokesman Jeff Solnet told CNN.

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