Newsom's French Laundry dinner sparks questions about 'outdoor dining' definition

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Newsom's French Laundry dinner sparks questions about 'outdoor dining' definition

The state recommends limiting the number of guests seated at a table to a single household or to “patrons who have asked to sit together” but does not specify the number and says they need not be two meters apart . | Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

OAKLAND – Does a chic open garage count as an outdoor dining room?

That is the question that emerges from pictures surfaced this week of Governor Gavin Newsom’s dinner with friends and lobbyists at the posh French laundry in Yountville.

The photos, taken by another dinner patron and obtained from Fox LA, show Newsom seated at a round table for 12 in a dining room that is closed and covered on three sides. In its apology on Monday for attending the dinner, Newsom reiterated that the event was held outdoors, a qualifier that, in the pandemic period, implies safer conditions due to the natural circulation of air that reduces transmission.

The definition of outdoor dining has suddenly become increasingly important as Newsom has forced 94 percent of the population to obey rules that only allow outdoor restaurants to operate. The governor moved quickly on Monday to assign 41 districts to the most restrictive purple tier to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. At least one other county, San Francisco, has already done so, although there is no requirement to close indoor dining rooms.

“That’s not outside,” said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association in San Francisco, after looking at photos of the governor dining with guests to celebrate lobbyist Jason Kinney’s 50th birthday.

California restaurant owners are already confused about what constitutes alfresco dining. State policy limits private gatherings to no more than three households and says they should take place outside. These rules also state that private venues must have three open sides in order for air circulation to be considered outdoors.

The three-page rule is repeated in other state guidelines for outdoor card rooms and salons.

But there is no such rule in the state Restaurant tour. The state recommends limiting the number of guests seated at a table to a single household or to “patrons who have asked to sit together” but does not specify the number and says they need not be two meters apart .

Equally unclear is the guidance on what type of structures a restaurant can use for outdoor dining. The only government definition appears to be under the July 13 general rules Outdoor businessbut it is not specific to restaurants.

These instructions enable operation in the open “under a tent, a canopy or other sun protection, but only as long as not more than one side is closed to allow sufficient movement of the outside air.” The French laundry collection took place in a private, permanent outbuilding called the Board Room instead, based on one Photo on the website of the restaurant.

California Department of Health officials did not respond to a request to clarify whether the tent and canopy guidelines apply to restaurants.

California Restaurant Association spokeswoman Sharokina Shams said restaurants comply with state rules unless the county guidelines are stricter. A spokeswoman for Napa County, where the French laundry is located, said the county follows state guidelines and has not made any additional rules. Napa County was in the second lowest restrictive orange level until Monday when the governor put it on the most restrictive purple level.

Santa Clara County is one of only a handful of counties in the state with clear guidelines for outdoor dining. Under the Instructions of the districtAny temporary or permanent structure such as a canopy must have at least 50 percent of the perimeter open to the outside.

Thomas of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association on Wednesday clarified the guidelines for outdoor dining for its members. In San Francisco, this means that no more than one vertical side of a tent, canopy, or other structure can be closed.

Thomas said she hopes at least two sides of a structure are allowed to remain open, especially with the advent of cooler temperatures.

Even eating outdoors could be a thing of the past in some parts of the state if the rise in cases continues unabated.

In Los Angeles County, which hasn’t broken off the purple level since the state reopened framework nearly three months ago, health officials plan to stop eating outdoors when the average daily case count over a period of five Days reached 4,000, or hospitalizations hit 1,750. An analysis by the Los Angeles Times reports that the five-day average is 2,800.

Still, Barbara Ferrer, director of the district’s health department, said reaching these thresholds was not inevitable. “I hope we don’t get there with every single bone in my body,” she said at a press conference on Wednesday.

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