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Diners at restaurants located along a strip of Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Caitlin Steinberg
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State restaurant owners seek refunds of state and local fees amid pandemic

REGION — California restaurant owners from across the state, including San Diego County, filed government claims today seeking refunds of state and local fees assessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying public
health orders have forced them to shutter their doors or operate under capacity restrictions even as they’re charged fees for liquor licenses, health permits and tourism assessments.

The claims were filed in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento and Monterey counties. Claims will also be filed in San Francisco, Fresno and Placer counties, according to the restaurant owners’ attorneys.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Brian Kabateck said, “Restaurant owners are obligated to pay these government fees just to operate, yet the same government entities who have collected those fees have forced these businesses to close their doors or drastically restrict operations due to the pandemic. We simply want the government to return those fees to those restaurants who followed the law and closed.”

The state has 45 days to respond to the claims, which are necessary precursors to a potential class-action lawsuit.

The move was supported by the California Restaurant Association, whose president and CEO, Jot Condie, said, “Even when the restrictions are lifted, the devastating impact on the restaurant industry will extend for
years. Restaurants have not received any form of relief. Easing fees would help enable establishments to stay open and keep vulnerable workers employed.”

Restaurants, like many other industries, have been hit hard by the pandemic, leading to the permanent closures of many establishments.

A survey by the California Restaurant Association found 63% of responding owners said they have not received rent relief. About 41% said their restaurants could remain economically viable with a 50% indoor capacity limit, which is only permitted in counties within the yellow or orange “tiers” in the state’s color-coded status system.

“It’s offensive and tone-deaf for these entities to enforce these rules and charge fees for licenses and permits these businesses can’t use,” Kabateck said.