Long Beach has issued nine citations, one of them criminal, to seven businesses for not complying with strict health orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, but some business owners say they thought they were in compliance when inspectors came.
Each citation comes with a fine, with the first costing a business $100, the second $200 and the third $500 and counted as a misdemeanor criminal citation.
The names of the businesses cited were released in response to a records request by the Long Beach Post, though the city still has not released the inspection reports or all the specifics of what led to enforcement action.
According to city records, the businesses include:
- King Smoke, which was cited April 30 for not shutting down during the city’s stay-home order
- Crunch Fitness in Downtown, which was cited on July 16 for illegally remaining open
- Crunch Fitness in Bixby Knolls, which was cited twice on July 17 and 18 for illegally remaining open before being criminally cited and closed by the city on July 19
- Fat Boys Club, a clothing store in Rose Park, which was cited July 25 for not following retail safety protocols
- Head Hunters, a smoke shop in Belmont Heights, which was cited July 25 for not following retail safety protocols
- Pietris Bakery in Belmont Shore, which was cited July 25 for not following restaurant safety protocols
- Murphy’s Pub in Belmont Shore, which was cited July 26 for not following restaurant safety protocols
According to some of the businesses, the breaches in retail and restaurant protocol ranged from not properly posting the mandated health rules to one employee not wearing a face shield at all times.
City officials have made clear that the vast majority of Long Beach businesses have been willing to comply with health orders, including posting health protocols publicly, requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings and—for restaurants—doing away with indoor dining.
Education is always the first step, followed by warnings, officials have said.
“The small number of folks where there’s an actual citation does represent the business willfully not coming into compliance because they’ve been given quite extensive opportunities to come into compliance and they did not,” said Chris Koontz, the deputy director of Development Services.
Not all of the businesses cited agree with Koontz’s characterization of what happened.
One of the owners of Fat Boys Club, Serenity Rodarte, said she was initially relieved when an inspector came in and told her the city had signs she could post telling customers to wear masks. The inspector told her she had 24 hours to come into compliance, which Rodarte thought she accomplished by posting the signs the inspector provided.
But when inspectors came back, they reportedly said she needed to post a four-page checklist showing she’d met all the requirements to reopen. The inspector told the store’s employee to fill out the paperwork and post it to avoid a citation, but Rodarte said, she was later surprised to find she was cited anyways.
“What is the goal here?” Rodarte asked. “Is the city just trying to cite all these small businesses?”
Another business, Head Hunters smoke shop, had a similar experience when it was also cited for not posting the protocols on a store window as required, a worker said. It was a result of a misunderstanding of the requirements laid out by the city, said the worker, who only gave the name Gunga.
Koontz disputed that, saying inspectors are looking for patterns of not following the rules. Someone being cited doesn’t indicate there’s been coronavirus spreading at that location, “but it is an indicator of not taking the rules seriously, and we want everybody to be protected,” Koontz said.
Paul Rivera, the chef at Pietris Bakery, said they had followed everything laid out in the restaurant protocols, but it just so happened that an employee wasn’t wearing their face shield while they were behind the counter when an inspector came by. Now all employees are instructed to wear their face shields “24/7,” Rivera said.
Other violations were more clear-cut. At Crunch Fitness in Bixby Knolls, city officials issued two citations for refusing to close before finally criminally citing and shutting the business down July 19. The Crunch Fitness in Downtown Long Beach closed after receiving one citation. Both gyms declined to comment.
Residents have called in hundreds of times to Long Beach’s enforcement hotline to report businesses that refuse to close, but Koontz said they also get a lot of complaints about things out of the business’ control, like customers taking masks off.
City officials note that the vast majority of businesses—about 90%— have come into compliance with the city’s health orders after the first visit by code enforcement. The other 10% are either the businesses cited, part of an open investigation or businesses that haven’t been visited again yet, Koontz said.
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