A coalition of Southland craft brewers who contend they are unfairly shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic began a social media lobbying effort this week, imploring county leaders to again allow them to reopen for outdoor service by partnering with third-party food vendors.
But county officials told City News Service breweries are still considered "high-risk'' businesses for possible spread of COVID-19, particularly among younger residents, and thus cannot be permitted to reopen.
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@mridleythomas Laurie Porter here, owner of Smog City Brewing Co. My husband and I started Smog City Brewing Co. 9 years ago out of an OC brewpub and a Honda civic. We grew this tiny business into a brand that we are so proud of. We employ 23 people with 3 (soon to be 4) locations and maintain our commitment to creativity, quality and community through even the toughest of challenges. We love our staff, we love our customers, and we love L.A. We recently even named a beer ‘From LA Wit Love’. You should try it, you'll like it! Never in a million years could any of us have predicted the impact that Covid-19 would have on what we built, but through it all we have never given up. We have worked tirelessly to harness the creativity and strong work ethic that got us here in the first place and has fueled our passion to weather the Covid storm. However, to make this sustainable for the long haul, we need your help. . We are not asking for special treatment, we are asking for the LA County Dept of Public Health to align with the lifelines set forth by the CDPH and ABC to allow brewery taprooms to partner with 3rd party food vendors and catering companies. We are asking for a chance to survive this pandemic intact, a chance to save the jobs we have created, and the taxes we pay. We are not just beer, we are much much more than that. Ask our fans! . To give you some perspective, our main brewery and taproom in Torrance has 3500 sq ft of permitted outdoor space for safe social distancing and service (that we cannot currently use). We have done our due diligence to create a safe environment for our customers AND our staff and continue to evolve with the ever changing policies set forth to protect our community. We know we can meet the standards and regulations set upon us. At Smog City we are asking you to step forward and align with our community driven businesses, ones that our local municipalities rely heavily upon to drive tourism, community and quality of life. Please hear our industry's call for support, please make the necessary changes to allow us to reopen safely. We are ready to meet this challenge. #savelabrewers @labrewers
The five-day lobbying effort -- targeting a different Board of Supervisors member each day -- is being organized by the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild, which includes nearly 100 Southland craft breweries. The guild contends breweries without their own kitchens were authorized by the county in early June to offer outdoor dining and beverage service, with food provided by third-party vendors such as food trucks or pop-up kitchens.
But with a subsequent countywide spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the ensuing weeks, the county enacted stricter health restrictions later that month, forcing breweries without in-house food kitchens to close for all but carryout beer sales.
Brewers contend that restriction is the toughest of any county in the state, and came on the heels of some breweries investing large sums of money to set up outdoor dining spaces to comply with the earlier county health order.
They also argue that breweries equipped with their own food kitchens were permitted to remain open with outdoor service, creating an un-level playing field within the industry.
"A little more than two-thirds of our membership are at a severe disadvantage currently,'' the guild stated on its website, noting that some breweries are "hanging on by a thread.''
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"Although the limited caps on outdoor dining won't guarantee our businesses will survive, it allows us to have a fighting chance,'' according to the guild.
The county Department of Public Health, in a statement to City News Service, said the rate of community spread of COVID-19 still makes it unfeasible to reopen breweries.
"At this time, we are still seeing concerning levels of community spread and high case counts of COVID-19,'' according to the county. "Because of that, we do not recommend businesses considered to be places where COVID-19 can spread easily to be reopened. Wineries, bars and other alcohol-focused businesses are in this high-risk category.
"... We understand this is a hardship for local business owners and we want to get to a place where it is safe to continue on our recovery journey and re-open our local businesses. The task in front of us is to be able to thread the needle so that we continue with our recovery journey while protecting the health and well-being of our residents, our workforce and our community.''
County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the South Bay area, which is home to a large concentration of craft breweries, told City News Service in a statement she was an early advocate of reopening businesses back in May with proper safety protocols, but subsequent spikes in cases forced rollbacks.
"I am worried about the toll these closures have taken on our local breweries, and while it doesn't seem fair, these are the tough decisions our public health experts are making to protect people and slow the spread of this virus,'' Hahn said.
Laurie Porter, co-owner of Torrance-based Smog City Brewery, directed a social-media post at county leaders Tuesday, saying craft breweries aren't asking for any special treatment, just "a chance to survive.''
"We have done our due diligence to create a safe environment for our customers and our staff and continue to evolve with the ever-changing policies set forth to protect our community,'' Porter wrote. "We know we can meet the standards and regulations set upon us. At Smog City we are asking you to step forward and align with our community-driven businesses, ones that our local municipalities rely heavily upon to drive tourism, community and quality of life.''