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Encinitas restaurants
Local businesses and restaurants in Encinitas continue limited operations despite the most recent stay-at-home public health order. The latest county mandate closes in-person dining and non-essential businesses. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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Local restaurant owners pledge resistance to latest health orders

ENCINITAS — After San Diego County announced a second stay-at-home health order on Dec. 6, some business owners have responded with pledges of resistance.

Local establishments have posted declarations of defiance on social media, claiming the order violates their constitutional rights and receiving support from individuals across the country.

In Escondido, the business “Koffie,” a small coffee shop publicly declared, “[we] will not be closing… Let’s stick together, have courage, and stand with us.”

Roxy Encinitas restaurant posted a sign on Dec. 7 at its host stand reading, “Roxy is proudly remaining open for business as part of a constitutionally protected peaceful protest/assembly against unconstitutional illegal government orders.”

Roxy owner Paula Vrakas spoke to the Coast News about the restaurant’s struggle to remain open following the county’s recent mandate.

“We’re doing everything safely. We’re serving outside and take out,” Vrakas said. “Everyone’s jobs are essential. We are trying our hardest to maintain the health and well-being of our staff through the holiday season.”

Vrakas fears businesses will permanently close before next year if they are not permitted to remain open.

Since many North County cities do not have the means to monitor local businesses, many wonder how the county’s Safe Reopening Compliance Team, comprised of 21 code enforcement officers and eight sheriff’s deputies, will enforce the latest stay-at-home order.

Roxy Encinitas
Roxy Encinitas posted a sign in front of the restaurant pledging to remain open. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg

Currently, there are more than 86,000 businesses in San Diego County.

According to the County’s Health & Human Services Agency, the Compliance Team was established in August to enforce public health orders.

The task force will rely upon assistance from local law enforcement and the general public, who may report businesses or organizations in violation of established orders via hotline (858) 694-2900 or email at [email protected].

The Compliance Team hosts weekly phone conversations with individual cities, providing the names of businesses issued cease-and-desist letters, which are also available online.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear confirmed that the City of Encinitas, just like every other city, does not have the power to enforce the orders.

“Some cities choose to not publicly support the county’s health orders for political purposes,” Blakespear said. “But ultimately the county’s [Compliance Team] enforces the county order, otherwise there would be wildly varying levels of enforcement.

“Everybody’s just trying to do the best they can to work within the realities that we’ve been given.”

According to Pat Piatt, a city of Encinitas spokesperson, businesses in violation of the order will first be verbally asked to comply by either local law enforcement or a member of the Compliance Team.

If a business continues to defy regulations, the District Attorney and Compliance Team will issue a cease-and-desist order.

If a cease-and-desist letter is issued and violated, the business will be either fined or shut down.

Local law enforcement will assist the Compliance Team, however in a limited manner.

According to Capt. Herbert Taft, of the Sheriff Department’s North Coastal Station, deputies have two options if local law enforcement agencies (not the county’s Compliance Team) receive a complaint or comes upon a business disobeying the public health order.

Deputies can either verbally inform the establishment they are in violation of the health order or immediately hand the case off to the Compliance Team.

“It is easier for the Compliance Team to handle enforcement rather than our own deputies,” Taft said. “Unlike our station, they have court-appointed deputies who are able to serve cease-and-desist orders, while we legally can not.”

And while the Compliance Team consisting of 35 individuals may appear small relative to the size of the county, it has the legal power to work quickly, Taft said.

“The team has all the right people working together… law enforcement, county code officers, and the District Attorney… that’s vertical prosecution,” Taft said.

It is unknown how effective and strict the Compliance Team will be in enforcing the stay-at-home order through the holidays and even Taft could not predict the team’s ultimate success nor businesses’ willingness to comply.

As of Tuesday, eight businesses in Encinitas have been served to cease and desist orders.

Blakespear expressed her own worry and condolences for businesses facing closures.

“I feel terrible because I think the theme that comes through to me is desperation,” Blakespear said. “People just want to stay in business and provide for their families, hire their employees and they feel desperate. This is a tremendously difficult situation because we both want to protect public health and also save small businesses.”

According to Blakespear, the Encinitas City Council will announce another $75,000 in CARES ACT funding to Encinitas businesses on Wednesday, Dec 9.

Blakespear stressed the importance of shopping small, sharing her own intentions of purchasing books from Encinitas shop Artifact Books and ordering take out from local restaurants.

“I think many recognize there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine,” Blakespear said. “But the reality of what exists now is that for three more weeks, businesses will be severely impacted, especially restaurants.”