Appeals court blocks San Diego County restaurant openings

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Owner Ted Caplaneris, left, and waitress Sandy Dooley handle orders at The Old Townhouse, a 45-year-old institution in San Diego's Ocean Beach neighborhood on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. They immediately resumed indoor dining when a judge on Thursday, Dec. 17, cleared the way for restaurants in the state's second most-populous county to ignore Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home orders. (AP Photo/Elliot Spagat)

SAN DIEGO – A California appeals court on Friday blocked a judge’s order allowing San Diego County restaurants to resume indoor and outdoor dining, keeping Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home edict in full effect.

A three-judge panel's brief order gave no explanation and came almost immediately after the state asked for emergency intervention. Two strip clubs were given until Wednesday to ask the appeals court to reconsider.

The decision came only two days after a judge authorized all restaurants in the county of more than 3 million people to reopen on their own terms. It marked the biggest victory yet for opponents of California’s public health orders but proved short-lived.

The state on Friday asked the appeals court to immediately step in, saying the scope of the judge's order far exceeded what the strip clubs sought when they sued in October. Lawyers said the state health care system was “on the brink of collapse” with no intensive-care beds available in Southern California.

“In the midst of the worst surge in the COVID-19 pandemic ... a single trial court judge has unilaterally thwarted public efforts to avert that looming catastrophe, by issuing an injunction that allows all restaurants in San Diego County to reopen without any restriction, contrary to the orders and judgment of the State’s top health officials,” lawyers for the governor wrote in their filing with the state’s Fourth Appellate District.

Jason Saccuzzo, a lawyer for Pacers Showgirls International, said he was disappointed and would continue fighting California's “illogical and unconstitutional orders.” The clubs — Pacers and Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club — will ask the appeals court early next week to reconsider.

Sacuzzo said he was given no opportunity to address the appeals court and told Pacers' staff that the club would immediately close.

“This is a huge blow to them right before Christmas, as well as for all restaurants in San Diego, in what has already been a very tight year for them financially given all the uncertainty caused by the ever changing orders of Governor Newsom,” he wrote in an email.