The LA County Board Of Supervisors is planning to impose new punishments for restaurants that violate COVID-19 health rules, which will significantly speed up the process to shut down restaurants that are not in compliance.
On Tuesday, the Board passed a motion that allows the Department of Public Health to impose fines after a first violation, and to immediately revoke permits after the second, closing the restaurant. The motion calls for an enforcement plan to be developed by the Department of Health within 14 days.
According to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-introduced the motion, during the weekend of June 27, 49% of bars and 33% restaurants visited by Dept. of Health inspectors did not adhere to physical distancing protocols. She added that 54% of bars and 44% of restaurants had service workers who weren’t wearing masks or face guards. But, despite these violations, the current rules require as many as five follow-up visits before even imposing a fine, which, the Board said, they don’t have the time or resources for.
The new fines will vary based on the size of the restaurant, and a number of other factors, like the level of noncompliance and amount of public health risk. As of right now, only Dept. of Health inspectors may report these violations, but the motion also indicates that they’ll explore ways to authorize other county officials to impose these new punishments.
“If you’re not in compliance, there will be a price to pay, because your failure to comply causes others to pay the price with their health,” Kuehl said. “We will fine you if you’re out of compliance. We’ll shut you down if we find you out of compliance a second time.”
Kuehl also said that the Board is preparing a motion for their July 21 meeting to create an employee reporting system for restaurant, hotel, and market workers whose employers are not abiding by the health and safety guidelines.
The reopening of restaurants has been extremely rocky, and many restaurant owners have been frustrated with the lack of clarity about what is and isn’t allowed. After Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all restaurants in LA County could open on May 29 - followed by bars on June 19 - bars were ordered to close just nine days later. Indoor dining was then forced to close (again) on July 1.