City Warns of ‘Criminal Prosecution’ for Defying COVID Orders. Restaurant Owner Faults Mayor.
Dave Fansler hoped to reopen Pismo’s Coastal Grill on Thursday.
While the popular seafood restaurant wouldn’t be packed — Fansler said seating would be restricted to 38% in the name of physical distancing — it would help the restaurateur get his business reopened.
Fansler scrapped those plans when he received a notice from the city of Fresno.
Warned of Penalties for Violating Emergency Orders
“I’ve had the city attorney’s office threaten to fine me and put me in jail. I had the governor saying that he’s going to attack my liquor license and take that from me. I’ve had the city tell me they’re going to take my business license away,” Fansler said.
The threat from the state wasn’t direct, Fansler clarified. The state agency regulating liquor licenses says reopening is a violation of the stay-at-home order, and revocation is a potential consequence.
Fansler said Pismo’s was “written up” when a bartender served a customer a drink waiting for a take-out order.
“It is just ridiculous. There was like three customers in the building and it was just very heavy-handed. Basically the letter said, we’re gonna fine you and or put you in jail,” Fansler recalled.
The city denied Fansler’s accusations.
“The city of Fresno has never threatened Dave Fansler or any other business owner with arrest. We would close the business long before we would arrest them. We have talked to a number of restaurants and asked them to follow our guidelines and all complied with one exception, Dog House Grill, who was fined $250,” city spokesman Mark Standriff said.
Fansler provided a letter sent from Fresno City Attorney Douglas Sloan on March 30, saying the city received complaints Pismo’s was still operating.
“Cease operations immediately, or you will be subject to criminal prosecution, revocation of your business license and/or conditional use permit, fines, and other legal action,” Sloan said.
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Restaurants Still Limited to Take-Out Service Only
Despite the easing of restrictions on retail businesses, state and city regulations do not currently permit dine-in service by restaurants. Phase 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Resiliency Roadmap,” went into effect today, allowing previously closed retail stores to reopen for curbside pickup only. Dine-in restaurant service is identified in Newsom’s plan as occurring later in Phase 2.
The city’s rules, however, will allow many retail businesses to reopen to customer foot traffic on Monday, with social distancing restrictions. Those allowances exceed the state’s published guidelines.
Newsom has outlined a path for individual counties to move deeper into Stage 2 at a faster pace by meeting COVID-19 readiness and containment thresholds.
Among the requirements: A county must record no deaths linked to the coronavirus and no more than one confirmed COVID-19 case for every 10,000 residents for 14 consecutive days. Counties also must have the capacity to perform 1.5 tests a day per 1,000 residents. In Fresno County, with a population just under 1 million, that would equal about 1,500 daily tests.
A county also must have enough shelters for at least 15% of its homeless population and at least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents (equal to a minimum of 150 in Fresno County) to track down suspected coronavirus cases.
“It’s an unbelievable high bar to meet. That almost makes it impossible,” Fansler said.
Fresno County has also issued guidelines for businesses to follow when they reopen, recommending six-foot distancing and ongoing sanitizing practices.
Fansler Says COVID-19 Crisis Mismanaged
“The city and the state are completely mismanaging this crisis and are completely inept, with no concern or tradeoff of how to fight the country’s crisis and how to not completely decimate people’s lives by shutting off their business income,” Fansler said. “Who are they to decide what’s essential and non-essential?”
Fansler, who appeared at a protest rally at City Hall on Wednesday, criticized Fresno Mayor Lee Brand.
“The mayor deflects everything. He doesn’t take a stand and fight for the city. The reason why he was hired was to fight for his city. He’s weak. He doesn’t fight. He just caves on every issue,” Fansler said.
Others are expressing frustration with Brand as well.
A radio ad, sponsored by an entity identified as “Common Sense Information, began airing on local stations Friday.
In the one-minute spot, an actor portraying a businessman economically affected by the coronavirus, asks Brand to open all business.
“Why won’t you give us the chance to innovate again?” the actor asks. “Instead, we have new rules that are not only cumbersome. They are unfair.”
At the end of the ad, listeners are urged to call Brand’s office.
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Losing $400,000 a Week in Business
In addition to Pismo’s, Fansler operates Westwoods BBQ & Spice Co, and Yosemite Ranch. Business is down 75%, Fansler said.
“Sales are down over $400,000 a week. So I’ve already lost $2.4 million,” Fansler said.
As a result, he’s laid off 270 employees.
Another Fresno restaurant, The Waffle House, opened its doors Thursday in defiance of state and city orders.
“I don’t blame them. But, they don’t have an ABC (liquor) license at risk,” Fansler said. “People’s lives are getting destroyed. For what?”