As the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors debated last week whether to ban outdoor dining, Democrat Sheila Kuehl was quick to speak up in favor of restrictions. It was “a bit of magical thinking,” the county supervisor said, to believe restaurant staffers could safely wait on unmasked diners amid a surge in coronavirus infections.
“This is a serious health emergency, and we must take it seriously,” she said, casting one of three votes that would again prohibit the practice across the county of more than 10 million people.
Hours later, according to KTTV, she was spotted dining alfresco at an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif.
Kuehl is one of at least four high-profile California Democrats who have landed in hot water in recent days for failing to abide by their own public health recommendations.
Despite pleading with residents to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus — which has killed at least 269,000 people in the United States — those very same lawmakers have ignored state and local rules, attending large holiday gatherings or indoor birthday celebrations. In one case, two politicians’ dinners took place on consecutive nights at the same pricey restaurant in Napa Valley.
Their transgressions come as infections are climbing and hospital beds are filling up fast in California, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. More than 81,000 new cases have been reported statewide in the past week, with about 9,000 patients currently hospitalized — a 36 percent increase from last week.
Barbara Osborn, a spokeswoman for Kuehl, confirmed to The Washington Post that the supervisor had dinner at Il Forno in Santa Monica on Nov. 24, the last day outdoor dining was permitted in Los Angeles County.
“She loves Il Forno, has been saddened to see it, like so many restaurants, suffer from a decline in revenue,” Osborn said in a statement. “She ate there, taking appropriate precautions, and will not dine there again until our Public Health Orders permit.”
Four hundred miles and three Michelin stars away, the lure of fine dining also created public-relations headaches for two of California’s most prominent politicians.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) both traveled to Napa Valley for birthday dinners last month at the French Laundry, a venerable eatery where reservations are famously hard-won, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The parties took place on Nov. 6 and 7, respectively, when Napa County allowed indoor dining without a cap on the number of households that could gather at one table. But statewide guidelines discouraged such dinners and limited them to three households, a boundary that Newsom’s group of a dozen people appeared to breach.
Since the start of the pandemic, the governor has repeatedly urged Californians to “do your part,” urging them to practice social distancing and avoid mixing with other households.
Newsom apologized after news broke about his French Laundry dinner last month, and again when photos then emerged showing him and his wife sitting close to others without masks. More guests than he anticipated were at the 50th birthday party for a longtime political adviser, he said.
“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said at a news conference. “Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back out to my car.”
Breed, whose dinner was first reported on Tuesday, has also asked residents to limit contact with others. Earlier in the day, she said that “as someone who basically lives alone, it’s been a tough year for me personally.”
Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement to The Post that the mayor’s eight-person party last month consisted of a “small family birthday dinner" at an open-air table. He did not specify how many households were involved, though he added that Breed is now limiting her actions as reported infections continue to increase.
The blowback to pricey French Laundry meals has been fierce, with at least one restaurant specifically mocking Newsom’s dinner. Eat at Joe’s, a greasy spoon in Redondo Beach, Calif., continued serving customers outside — in defiance of Los Angeles County’s ban on outdoor dining — while covering up its sign with a banner bearing the French Laundry logo.
“If it’s good enough for Gavin Newsom, it’s good enough for all of my clients,” owner Alex Jordan told KNTV.
While the diner has tried to keep up with local and state regulations, Los Angeles County officials “keep moving the goal line further and further back,” Jordan said.
In San Jose, meanwhile, Mayor Sam Liccardo (D) has drawn similar scrutiny for traveling to his parents’ home for an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner, despite urging others not to do the same.
Before the holiday, Liccardo warned that people were letting their guard down with family members and friends, causing infections to surge. “Let’s cancel the big gatherings this year and focus on keeping each other safe,” he wrote on Twitter on Nov. 25.
The next day, he attended a socially distanced Thanksgiving meal with eight people from five households — three more than the cap allowed by California’s health regulations.
“I apologize for my decision to gather contrary to state rules, by attending this Thanksgiving meal with my family,” Liccardo said in a statement Tuesday. “I understand my obligation as a public official to provide exemplary compliance with the public health orders, and certainly not to ignore them. I commit to do better.”
Reis Thebault contributed to this report.