Complaints in SCV increase; what happens when businesses don’t comply?

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Complaints about Santa Clarita Valley businesses not complying with COVID-19 safety measures have increased to more than 200 over the past two months, according to Los Angeles County Public Health, which broke down Thursday what happens when they fail to comply. 

Between June 1 and July 13, Public Health received 238 complaints regarding its health officer order, which currently requires business owners of several sectors to halt indoor operations and mandates implementation of protocols to keep workers and customers safe. 

Complaints between this timeframe are attributed to businesses within the city of Santa Clarita, Valencia, Canyon Country and Newhall, according to Public Health Media, the department’s communications division, via email. 

“A review of our inspection data revealed most complaints were at restaurants and were generated by the inspectors when they observed the re-opening protocol wasn’t completed,” said officials with Public Health Media, adding that 14 businesses with serious violations warranted a re-inspection. Most violations revolved around employees failing to wear face coverings. 

The Signal has also received calls and emails from both workers and customers concerned about possible violations about some local fast-food eateries, gyms, spas and grocery stores. 

In May, when stricter lockdown restrictions were in place, the department had received 93 complaints, of which 56 were not in violation, and one, Valencia Crazy Otto’s, resulted in a permit suspension for allowing dine-in services in mid-May. These complaints were attributed to businesses such as barbershops, vape shops and car washes. 

While the city has received complaints, individuals are advised to contact Public Health to formally file complaints, according to city Communications Manager Carrie Lujan. 

“The city of Santa Clarita does not have its own Department of Public Health, so we fall under the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health as far as the orders to wear masks for essential workers and their patrons. They are also the organization that handles regulating these orders,” she said. 

Countywide, the department has received 17,808 health officer order complaints since March and is averaging up to 3,000 per week. More than 17,000 restaurants, 3,500 grocery stores, 600 pools and 3,000 other businesses have been investigated, according to Public Health data released Thursday. 

At the end of June, 33% of restaurants did not adhere to physical distancing protocols, 40% had employees working without face coverings and face shields. Inspections conducted last week improved as 93% complied with distancing measures and 96% of workers had face coverings, said Public Health officer Muntu Davis during a media conference Thursday. 

“Most of the businesses under investigation, either came into compliance or were working to come into compliance, and that’s why they weren’t closed,” he said. 

Nearly 100 were shut down for violations, however: 26 restaurants, one grocery store and pool, and 67 other businesses. 

For those that don’t comply even after the first inspection, there are consequences. 

What happens when you don’t comply? 

Public Health has created a tiered enforcement plan that includes fines that can range from $100 for the first offense to $500 and a 30-day permit suspension for multiple offenses. These measures apply whether businesses are licensed and permitted by the department or not. 

The approach, however, starts with educating businesses, said Davis. 

“You start with ensuring education and that the business understands what is required, and then assess the severity of the violations,” he said. 

During the first visit, inspectors are expected to educate businesses or organizations on the requirements and can they issue a $100 fine or issue a notice of intent to suspect permits. Inspectors would then return within three to seven days to ensure issues have been addressed. 

The second visit, if still not in compliance, the department will issue a $500 fine and suspect the facility permit for seven days. 

If by the third visit, a business is still failing to comply, they can face a second $500 fine and a permit suspension for 30 days. Public Health will also notify the state of the business’s noncompliance.

For those not permitted or licensed by the department, which can include gyms, hair salons and other personal services, inspectors will call law enforcement to issue a misdemeanor citation and the case may be referred to the L.A. County counsel for a potential, temporary restraining order during the second visit. These businesses can face an order to close and their case referred to the District Attorney for filing misdemeanor charges, in addition to a $500 fine, by the third visit, said Muntu. 

“This plan while still, while some may consider it punitive or harsh. It’s really about finding a path to reopen our economic sectors, again with a stronger enforcement tool to ensure that are collected about an economy are protected,” he said. 

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