Laguna Beach hasn’t fined any businesses for violating a regional health order that bans on-site dining at restaurants, the city manager shared Monday.
An absence of enforcement action could reflect Laguna Beach restauranteurs’ willingness to limit their operations to only delivery and takeout.
“The City is still working with restaurants to gain compliance and has not yet issued any fines,” City Manager John Pietig wrote in an email. “If issued, fines could range from $100 to $500 per violation.”
Laguna Beach moved over the weekend of Dec. 6 to remove tables, chairs, and umbrellas from dining and retail decks at the Promenade on Forest Avenue. Restaurants were also instructed to remove tables and chairs from temporary parklets citywide.
Beyond these measures, Laguna Beach has focused attention on educating businesses about the stay at home order’s restrictions rather than writing citations. Laguna Beach police officers and civilian support staffers handed informative flyers to downtown businesses last week.
During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Pietig said city leaders are sympathetic to the financial hit restaurants will endure but ultimately want them to voluntarily comply with the regional health order.
“If our efforts to educate and seek compliance are not heeded we will have to move forward and look at possible enforcement options, which could include reporting the restaurant to the [Department] of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the County Health Officer, Cal OSHA, or other entities and the city could consider fines,” Pietig said. “Again that is not our goal. Our goal is compliance.”
The ban on outdoor dining has come under fire by both residents and business owners who argue that health officials haven’t provided data showing that outdoor dining invited more COVID-19 transmission than other activities like shopping or attending school.
A Los Angeles superior court ruled earlier this month that L.A. County’s public health director acted “arbitrarily” and failed to show that the health concerns outweighed the economic fallout from implementing a ban on in-person dining.
Regardless, Laguna Beach officials have said they intend to follow the regional order.
“In Laguna let’s pull together as a community as we always do in times of crisis,” Mayor Bob Whalen wrote in a letter to the editor. “Let’s support our local restaurants by ordering takeout and our local merchants by ordering online. Let’s keep ourselves and our neighbors safe by wearing a mask whenever we have to be out.”
Executive Chef Erik De Marchi of Oliver’s Osteria said Monday that’s he been forced to furlough over 20 employees since last week.
“Business dropped down over 90% so it’s not going very good,” he said.
The latest stay home order has been catastrophic for the restaurant business, De Marchi added, especially after he spent about $20,000 on a tent and heaters to comply with guidelines for outdoor dining.
“I’ll be fine personally, me and my family, because I have savings,” he said. “It’s my workers. Most of my employees work check-to-check.”
He offered a hard critique of how public officials rolled out the latest shutdown.
“I feel like it’s unconstitutional to force a small business owner to shut down without any help. I think it’s kind of dictatorial,” De Marchi said. “I would say to the mayor, ‘let the people choose to go out.’”