Who’s being penalized for breaking coronavirus rules in Long Beach? It’s hard to know

Over the past two and a half months, complaints about Long Beach restaurants, bars and other businesses breaking coronavirus-related health orders have poured into a city-run hotline and email inbox. In all, there have been 515 since May 8, according to a city spokeswoman.

In that same period of time, city inspectors have issued only seven citations, and officials have not disclosed a full list of the businesses that have run afoul of city health orders.

This is as Long Beach and Los Angeles County are reporting record numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the closure of indoor operations of businesses including personal care services, gyms and houses of worship last week to slow the spread of the virus.

In addition to hundreds of resident complaints, some are also voicing frustration that workers are being put in peril when their employer doesn’t follow the rules.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 324, which represents workers in Long Beach, has been encouraging its members to report workplace violations to them and to OSHA, but its members don’t always see enforcement action.

“Employers should be the first to inform workers on violations,” Andrea Zinder, president of the chapter said in an email. “If that is not happening, the city is obligated to let them know. Members feel frustrated because they have reported violations to OSHA and have not seen enforcement, and they would hope the City of Long Beach Police and Health Department can help fill in these gaps.”

City officials have said they are first trying to educate businesses, and that most have been quick to comply when approached by inspectors. But exactly who is running so far afoul of COVID-19 rules that the city feels it’s necessary to cite them is hard to discern.

The disclosures from officials have been scattershot: In April, officials said they cited a smoke shop in North Long Beach for staying open despite stay-at-home orders; a month later, they issued a warning to Iconix gym in Belmont Shore after the facility hosted a rooftop yoga class in defiance of the health order. On the health department’s restaurant closure site, Shenanigans in Shoreline Village and The Reef near the Queen Mary were closed July 10 for “not adhering to Safer at Home Health Order.” But city has not released a comprehensive list of who’s been cited and why, and is now requiring a formal records request process that can take weeks or months.

City health director Kelly Colopy said at a press conference Thursday that the Venue Task Force starts with education, then an administrative citation. After four visits and administrative citations, then it would become a criminal citation, which is a misdemeanor.

“There is a process we move through, we have been moving through,” Colopy said. She was unable to immediately explain why records of the administrative citations were being withheld.

Meanwhile, many residents are frustrated at the businesses that remain open despite the state-ordered closures or the businesses that don’t follow the health guidelines set out by the city and county. Residents have reached out to the Post about several gyms open in defiance of the order. One gym, the Bixby Knolls Crunch Fitness, was shut down by the city on Sunday, according to an employee there. The Downtown location had also reportedly shut down late last week.

Another subject of complaints, Iconix gym in Belmont Shore, is only open for outdoor classes on the roof and alleys, an employee said.

County health officials, meanwhile, announced Thursday that they created a tiered compliance and enforcement plan with citations and fines for businesses continuously violating the health orders. They will issue fines to all non-compliant businesses ranging from $100 for the first offense to $500 and a 30-day permit suspension for multiple offenses, starting at the end of August. The county said it shut down 26 restaurants, one grocery store, one pool and 67 other businesses for health order violations—though the names of those businesses were not divulged in the release.

County health director Barbara Ferrer emphasized in a press conference on Wednesday the importance of following reopening protocols.

“We continue to work everyday to respond to workplace complaints and enforce reopening protocols that we put in place to protect workers from having unnecessary exposures at their worksites,” Ferrer said. “Our protocols for the sectors that are open are written as legal requirements and they are not recommendations.”

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.