Reopen New York City: Restaurant owners file $2 billion lawsuit as pressure

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) — Some New York City lawmakers are pushing for indoor dining in the city, and some restaurant owners are now filing a class action lawsuit.

The suit is seeking $2 billion in damages, alleging the state is violating the constitutional rights of the owners of more than 150,000 New York City restaurants, many of which have already closed permanently.

One restaurant in Queens argues customers can walk blocks away into Nassau County if they want to eat indoors.

Il Bacco on Northern Boulevard say it is unfair that indoor dining is illegal in Little Neck, but legal just a few blocks east in Great Neck, on Long Island.

In fact, New York City is the only city in the state that still does not allow some form of indoor dining, and New Jersey is going to allow indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Friday.

Among the concerns cited: the small footprint many of these city restaurants occupy, and fears that authorities won’t be able to enforce capacity limits

New York Governor Cuomo says without the ability to enforce the rules, there can’t be a timetable to reopen indoor dining.

“My opinion is restaurants should open. The question is how?” he said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio suggested an announcement could come this month.

“I think it’s our responsibility to give them as clear an answer in the month of September as possible, of where we are going,” the mayor said Wednesday. “If there can be a timeline, if there can be a set of standards for reopening, we need to decide that in the next few weeks and announce it, whether it is good news or bad news.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement in favor of resuming indoor dining with precautions.

“It’s time to allow indoor dining in New York City with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety,” he said. “This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism. Summer is winding down, and they need to begin planning for the colder months. Of course, we will continue to monitor the City’s COVID-19 rates, just as we must for all of our businesses. We know that the restaurant industry employs many New Yorkers, including many immigrants. Its health and well-being are imperative to our city. The rest of the state has been allowed to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining, and New Jersey is allowing indoor dining come Friday. Now is the time to allow it in New York City. Our restaurants and our City’s economy can’t wait.”

Cuomo said he would reach out to Johnson to discuss what needs to be done to reopen indoor dining.

“If New York City can say this many police can be put on a task force to monitor the compliance, that’s something we can discuss. I’m going to say to the restaurant association, tell me how we are going to enforce it and how we are going to monitor compliance because the facts on how we will monitor bars are damning,” Cuomo said. “You have heard me on the past month saying there is a lax compliance… All restaurants can open, but they have to have this, this, this. But the plan is only as good as your ability to enforce. Right now, we have no ability to enforce it.”

RELATED | NYC bar shut down after more than 75 people found inside

Meantime, the owner of Melba’s in Harlem says it is just going to get worse, especially for black-owned businesses.

“When America catches a cold, black America catches the flu,” she told Eyewitness News. “There’s so many disparities within our black communities…. If the mayor does not open restaurants, even if it’s at a lower percentage, 50%, 30%, I’m really afraid that the homeless rate is going to rise.”

And Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, issued a statement in support of Speaker Johnson calling for indoor dining to resume in New York City.

“Restaurants across New York City have been financially (devastated) for six months since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “With New Jersey resuming indoor dining on Friday and restaurants elsewhere across New York state having safely served customers indoors for months, the NYC Hospitality Alliance, restaurant owners from across the five boroughs, industry leaders, members of the State Senate, City Council and now Speaker Johnson have all called for an immediate plan to resume indoor dining. We’re thankful that Speaker Johnson is urgently protecting thousands of small businesses from permanent closure and preventing losses of tens of thousands of industry jobs, and we stand with his call to action to allow indoor dining to safely resume in New York City.”

RELATED: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut out-of-state travelers quarantine list


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