Though California shut down indoor dining for bars and restaurants in 51 counties because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, Una Mas Saloon in San Juan Bautista continues to operate in defiance of city officials and the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy days after the county’s purple tier requirements took effect.
With no tools to enforce the state’s guidelines, City Manager Don Reynolds said that while he explores his options, the city is gathering evidence of violations such as photographs and sharing it with San Benito County agencies and the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), the agency that issues alcohol sale licenses. He referred to Una Mas as an “administrative headache.”
Yolanda Torres, owner of Una Mas Saloon, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
According to the ABC, Una Mas Saloon’s license that allows the sale of beer and wine expired on Nov. 30. However, an ABC official at the Salinas office said Una Mas Saloon was given an extension through Dec. 30 to pay a $565 renewal fee. Under the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, bars in purple tier counties are allowed to offer outdoor dining if beverages are served with food.
Reynolds said he has met with city code enforcement officer Rich Brown to come up with citations, but it seems their only option right now is to rely on the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency and ABC to enforce state guidelines.
David Westrick, public information officer for San Benito County, told BenitoLink because the health department is not an enforcement agency, it’s up to others such as code enforcement and the police to uphold guidelines. He said agencies that provide permits or licenses to businesses also have enforcement powers.
“Health enforcement agencies don’t have any power at all,” Westrick said.
According to the Sacramento Bee, state agencies are going out to noncompliant businesses threatening to revoke their licenses if they don’t obey state and county rules.
Captain Eric Taylor with the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office and Hollister City Manager Brett Miller said on Nov. 23 they have not had complaints or cited businesses over violations of shutdown orders. Both said they’re taking on an educational approach before handing out citations to get businesses to comply.
On Dec. 1, Miller said the city had been notified of a Facebook post that stated San Benito Billiards, referred to as a pool hall, was open for business.
“Code enforcement was sent out to have an educational session with them,” Miller said.
In regards to San Juan Bautista, Taylor said because the city has a resolution regarding face coverings, it’s up to their code enforcement officer to apply it. However, that resolution does not apply to businesses.
With no support from the county or state, and with no compliance order in place for businesses, Reynolds said he’s looking at other jurisdictions which have passed ordinances allowing business owners to be cited for infractions while San Juan Bautista staff continue to dig through the municipal code looking for any enforceable action.
For San Juan Bautista Councilman Dan De Vries, the issue is about having the rules apply to all businesses equally.
“To me it’s purely about questions of fairness and equity to the other restaurants and bars in San Juan Bautista who have followed those rules.”
Because all but one of the bars and restaurants have closed down indoor dining in town, De Vries said it’s created a monopoly for the remaining business.
“So it’d be a little bit unfair, I think, for one business to make money, maybe even more so than otherwise, while all the others are suffering losses,” De Vries said.
He demonstrated his objection to Una Mas’s actions on Facebook by posting a photograph of patrons inside the establishment on Nov. 19, two days after indoor dining was prohibited. He said in San Juan Bautista, with approximately 2,000 residents, everyone knows each other, so it’s important that all have the same rules. He said the city should either allow all restaurants to have indoor dining or none at all.
“All or nothing,” De Vries said. “You can’t have one open.”
Tammy Castañeda-Huaracha, owner of Dona Esther’s Restaurant, said that the rules apply to all businesses and that Torres knows the rules, as do the rest of the business owners.
“I think that what is good for one shoud be good for all,” Castañeda-Huaracha said. “It’s a matter of time. She’s going to hang herself, unfortunately. ABC will come down on her eventually.”
De Vries said while it seems like common sense that the city could shut down a business, that’s not the case.
“It appears to me that the city doesn’t have the options or the tools in the toolbox that it needs,” he said.
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