Owner of restaurant that defied COVID-19 rules given new health permit by mistake

A Long Beach restaurant owner who defied coronavirus rules was mistakenly given a new health permit recently, allowing her to temporarily operate legally even while the city pursues criminal charges against her.

The city issued Restauration’s owner, Dana Tanner, a new health permit in error through its automated system earlier this month, Deputy City Attorney Art Sanchez said. This was just weeks after the city pulled Tanner’s permit and shut off her gas because she ignored the ban on outdoor dining during the height of the coronavirus outbreak in January.

Tanner applied for a new permit after the ban was lifted on Jan. 25. Sanchez said the city became aware it had given her the new permit only after her attorney sent a picture of it to the city prosecutor’s office, which is pursuing criminal charges against her for operating Restauration without a permit, breaking COVID-19 rules and allegedly running an illegal gas line to the restaurant after the city cut her service—something that prompted neighbors to call the city worried about a gas leak.

Once officials realized their mistake, the health department sent Tanner a digital and physical letter notifying her they’d invalidated the permit, Sanchez said.

The error was a result of the city’s automated system, which issued the permit after Tanner submitted payment, Sanchez said. Because of the mistake, the city won’t be able to pursue citations against Tanner between the dates of Feb. 4 and Feb. 13, according to Sanchez.

However, Tanner is still facing a host of other fines and criminal charges.

An attorney for Tanner was in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday for the first hearing on 21 misdemeanors the city has filed against her.

Dana Tanner on the phone while at her restaurant Restauration in Long Beach on January 25, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Defense attorney Bryan Shroeder argued his client should be protected by a double jeopardy defense, arguing that Tanner was being tried twice for the same crimes because she’s already faced non-criminal penalties including Long Beach stripping her of her license to operate at an administrative hearing.

Judge Amy Yerkey said that it’s unclear if Tanner is eligible for such a defense but that is likely to be decided at a later court date, tentatively slated for March 11.

The misdemeanor counts against Tanner include multiple charges for days she operated without a license, violating city health orders and having an illegal gas line installed at her restaurant after the city’s gas company disconnected it.

Each count could carry six months of jail time, but because of the overlap between state and local laws that were broken, it’s likely that only about 16 of the charges could result in concurrent jail time if Tanner is convicted.

Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said that the number of charges could grow if Tanner continues to operate without a license. Haubert’s office could amend the complaint to add charges or file a new case.

Dana Tanner, left, owner of Restauration, speaks with customers as she waits for gas department employees to investigate a reported leak, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2020. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Haubert asked the judge to order Tanner not operate her restaurant without a license while the criminal case is adjudicated.

He noted that there were only four original charges in the complaint filed against Tanner but that has since grown to 21 because of her refusal to close Restauration.

“It was her own conduct after we filed the case that has really shown how egregious the situation is,” Haubert said.

Schroeder said Haubert only wanted a court order to provide the city with an avenue to arrest Tanner.

If police witness Tanner committing a misdemeanor, they can arrest her on the spot—even without a court order. But in an interview, Schroeder said that would create a public relations headache for the city, and a court order might provide them better political cover.

Yerkey offered to set bail at $0 if Tanner agreed to follow all laws, including not operating her restaurant without a health permit. But after consulting with Tanner, Schroeder refused the terms, saying the city was trying to “trick” her into breaking the law so she could be arrested.

“This is, at best, an attempt by the city to destroy a local business operator,” Schroeder said.

Ultimately, Yerkey set bail at $100,000, a sum Schroeder said Tanner would post bond on by the end of the day. A GoFundMe page started by Tanner in January to cover legal expenses had about $8,400 as of Friday afternoon.

While Schroeder argued that bail amount was higher than a typical misdemeanor charge, Yerkey said that a combination of the gas leak and photos presented by Haubert of maskless patrons inside the restaurant during the peak of the pandemic convinced her that the amount was justified because of the “significant public safety issue.”

Schroeder said Tanner will continue operating her restaurant.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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