Restaurant owners were quick to celebrate after Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp didn’t file criminal charges against them for failing to comply with state-mandated orders during the pandemic.
House of JuJu, Pismo’s Coastal Grill, Culichi Town, and Luna’s Pizzeria were all cited by agents from state Alcohol Beverage Control.
The ABC points out that there is a difference between a misdemeanor criminal citation and possible disciplinary action against the license. ABC says it respects the work all 58 county district attorneys do.
Smittcamp doesn’t believe the state made a good enough case for criminal charges against the Fresno and Clovis restaurants.
She sat down with GV Wire℠ Friday morning to explain her reasoning, personal feelings about the pandemic, and what she would do for nail salon violations.
Smittcamp also had a message for Gov. Gavin Newsom.
District Attorney Smittcamp’s Decision
“It’s not an activity (restaurant owners trying to make a living) that I think should be made criminal.” — Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp
“There are administrative and licensing issues and remedies that I feel could have been pursued in a more aggressive manner, rather than making these people criminals,” said Smittcamp during an interview in her downtown office.
“In the State of California, we have now reduced a lot of crimes to the misdemeanor level. Things like possession of heroin, possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine. A lot of theft crimes are now misdemeanors.”
She says more policies are coming out of Sacramento to decriminalize activities that many in law enforcement believe are harmful to the safety and security of everyday Californians.
“So, it doesn’t sit right with me,” Smittcamp said. “It’s not an activity (restaurant owners trying to make a living) that I think should be made criminal. It is a civil action, and I think the cases are more well-suited for administrative or licensing remedies.”
Fresno County Health Director David Pomaville told Smittcamp that each of the four restaurants was working to become compliant.
“That was another factor that was taken into consideration,” she said.
Smittcamp also said that she told the city attorney in Fresno, officials in Clovis, and the county counsel she won’t file charges in these kinds of cases.
Smittcamp & Civil Liberties, Her Message to Newsom
“The governor keeps changing the rules on people. That’s not a slam on the governor. The virus is presenting different things that are causing the rules to change,” Smittcamp said.
“We need to really focus on the fact that we live in the United States of America and people have civil liberties,” continued Smittcamp.”If a restaurant is open with social distancing and there are people who choose to not go out to that restaurant, they don’t have to. Nobody’s forcing people to go out to restaurants. Nobody’s forcing people to get their hair cut.”
The district attorney’s message to the governor is this:
“I think the message to the governor would be, what is the collateral damage that you’re doing? What is the collateral damage of the choices you are making? The decisions you’re making — people don’t have this kind of money to survive.”
Restaurant Owners React to DA’s Decision
“I’m pleased to finally see a respected executive from government speaking out about how harmful this has been for the business community’s owners, families and employees.” — Pismo’s Coastal Grill owner Dave Fansler
Pismo’s Coastal Grill owner Dave Fansler says, “I’m pleased to finally see a respected executive from government speaking out about how harmful this has been for the business community’s owners, families and employees.”
After an impasse with the city of Fresno about opening his indoor area for dining because he believed it should be considered a patio, Fansler relented and had a large tent erected for outside diners.
House of JuJu co-owner Julie Glenn says, “Lisa Smittcamp is a hero in the eyes of every small business owner I know. I only wish more leaders would publicly take a stand for the community rather than the wait and see approach,” said Glenn.
She continued: “The unrealistic and unfounded data the state is using will continue to destroy small businesses and families. Not just financially, but mentally as well. Lisa has provided hope for those of us on the brink of despair.”
“Lisa has provided hope for those of us on the brink of despair.”–House of JuJu co-owner Julie Glenn
Glenn gave up her restaurant’s license to serve beer and wine after being cited in early July for offering dine-in service in violation of state health orders. Glenn hopes to one day offer beer and wine again after the pandemic is over. She’ll have to re-apply for the license and pay a couple of thousand dollars. She says that’s a small price to pay.
DA’s Stance on Nail Salons
Smittcamp says she would 100% take the same stance with citations against nail salons as she’s done with restaurants.
“The nail salons and the hair salons are the places that are trained (in hygiene safety) as part of their schooling and licensing,” said Smittcamp.
California is the only state in the nation that hasn’t allowed nail salons to reopen.
The Sacramento Nails Association recently finalized its nonprofit status in hopes of advocating at the Capitol on behalf of members. SNA President Lui Nguyen runs a nail salon in Sacramento and is tired of being ignored. “Out of 50 states, we’re the only ones that cannot open. So, how can that be fair?” he told GV Wire℠ by Zoom at the end of August.
“The hygiene is always at a high standard,” said Smittcamp. “I feel much safer in a hair salon or a nail salon that I do in a Walmart or when I go to Target.”
California Department of Beverage Control
ABC emailed this statement to GV Wire℠: “ABC agents will continue to visit locations to ensure compliance with health orders to help stop the spread of COVID -19.
“ABC prefers educational outreach and voluntary compliance over enforcement action, but it will take enforcement action for egregious violations, and for businesses that refuse to comply with state health orders.”
Since July 1 when ABC started its work with the California Office of Emergency Services COVID – 19 Task Force, agents have made more than 52,000 site visits to ABC licensed businesses and issued about 130 citations. The office says compliance with the health orders has been good.