With the recent health order for restaurants, bars and other types of eateries in Los Angeles County to close all in-person dining amid a rapid spike in coronavirus cases, the City of Long Beach has followed suit with officials taking measures to enforce the new restrictions.
Mineshaft, a well known gay bar on Broadway, continued to serve customers after the health orders went into effect on Wednesday, Nov. 25, but on Monday, Nov. 30, received a Notice of Inspection from the city for “setting up tables and chairs outside for customer use” and “were instructed to remove them,” said Jennifer Rice Epstein, spokesperson for the city, in an email.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2, when the city conducted a follow-up inspection, Epstein said the bar was “found to be in compliance,” adding that businesses found in violations of the health orders were “subject to administrative actions which include a Notice of Inspection followed by administrative citations.”
Mineshaft owner, Jeff Darling, said that his decision to stay open despite the recent health orders was a matter of staying in business or closing for good.
“All along we’ve done everything the city has asked us to do to be compliant,” said Darling, who added that he has had COVID-19. “Safety measures, and distancing and reduction of numbers of people, but it finally came down to—we don’t have a choice. Our existence is what mattered to me.
“When we went against the order it wasn’t about, ‘I don’t care about people’s health or I don’t care if other people could get COVID,’ as a person who got COVID and survived. I understand that we can just operate on the same level that retail is doing and be as safe as possible. So I kind of had to make a stance the only way I could, which was kind of by staying open. And I knew that the health department would come and threaten us with huge fines, which I knew I couldn’t pay even if I was fined, so that’s the statement I had to make. It wasn’t out of hatred to anybody, it was out of mere survival for us.”
Darling is unsure if he’ll reopen while the health orders remain in place, saying he “can’t survive more threats of huge fines” that he can’t pay.
Darling is not alone in his defiance. In Redondo Beach, a restaurant owner refused to close his patio, while, on the other side of the country, the general manager of a bar on Staten Island who defied health orders was arrested Tuesday, and the bar’s liquor license taken away.
How Long Beach is enforcing the new health orders, which directly follow the county’s ban on in-person dining, and include increased restrictions on public and private gatherings, involves an “education-first” approach, said Epstein.
“The city’s Venue Task Force (VTF) continues to take a proactive approach to inform businesses about the health orders and protocols affecting their operation,” said Epstein. “The VTF visits businesses regularly and conducts inspections to ensure that businesses are informed and in compliance with the city’s health orders.
“The city also offers several resources for businesses, including one-on-one assistance and a Business Hotline, 562-570-4BIZ, where business owners can get more information.”
Residents can also call the Long Beach Police Department’s non-emergency line to report violations, Epstein said in an earlier email on Nov. 24, the day before the new health orders went into effect.
LBPD “will continue to educate and rely on voluntary compliance, however, the PD would not make determinations on what gatherings aren’t allowed,” said LBPD public information officer, Arantxa Chavarria, also on the 24th.
Earlier in September, Darling was one of about 14 local bar owners who formed the Long Beach Bar Coalition in hopes of saving not only his own establishments—Darling also owns The Brit, and is landlord of the building that houses BLACK bar down the street—but because a part of the city’s culture the group said could be lost without some form of aid.
“These are people’s second homes,” Darling told the Post in September. “Gay bars? They are often the place where many in the neighborhood we operate in feel comfortable—and they have been effectively siphoned off from that comfort. Do people across the city know what situation we are in? Do they know that when the state, if they ever do, decides to reopen bars, a lot of us won’t even be here?”
Some business owners have also pushed back in the form of organized protests, including one to “re-open Long Beach,” a protest that Darling took part in, that marched from the 2nd & PCH shopping center on Wednesday, through Belmont Shore.
The Long Beach Restaurant Association, formed over the summer, recently held a news conference to put pressure on City Hall to reverse the dine-in service restriction, while days later Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia proposed a $5 million “resiliency fund” to help restaurants, bars and breweries.
“We’ve seen surges before and we can flatten the curve again, but we need the community’s help,” Epstein said.
Epstein advised business owners and workers in need of assistance to visit longbeach.gov/economicdevelopment for help, as well as urged those wanting to support to order food to go.
“The City of Long Beach is aware that closing restaurants for in-person dining has been frustrating for restaurants and patrons, and we understand that this decision has been very difficult for restaurant employees and small business owners,” said Epstein. “It’s not a decision we made lightly.”