AGOURA HILLS, CA — Just two days before the countywide outdoor dining ban is set to be lifted, Los Angeles County is suing Cronies Sports Grill on Kanan Road in Agoura Hills for refusing to comply with the outdoor dining orders.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Wednesday also targets the Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank.
The suit asks for an abatement order directing both restaurants to bring their businesses into compliance with the health orders and to allow inspectors to enter to ensure compliance. The suit also seeks civil penalty assessments against the businesses for each day they allegedly did not abide by the health directives.
Asked why the suit was filed two days before the outdoor dining ban was being lifted, the Office of Countywide Communications issued a statement in explanation.
"The complaint asks the court to order the defendants ... to comply with the health officer orders to safeguard the health of our county's residents during this devastating public health emergency," the statement said. "We do not take this action lightly. However, as the complaint notes, `defendants' actions constitute a public nuisance and must be stopped."'
Both businesses were given repeated notices, written directives, citations and appeals to "do the right thing" and comply voluntarily with the health officer mandates, the statement explained.
Thousands of other businesses have stepped up to do their part to protect the public's health during an unprecedented emergency, according to the county statement.
"We are grateful that they are doing the right thing to help our county through this unprecedented and dangerous time," the statement said.
No one answered the phone at the Tinhorn Flats restaurant and a woman who answered the phone at Cronies said no managers were available to comment.
On Dec. 2, public health inspectors observed 18 to 22 customers eating and drinking on Cronies' outdoor patio and also saw that a closure notice that had been posted on the front door the day before was no longer visible from the outside because a banner camouflaged it, the suit states.
However, owner Dave Foldes decided to continue outdoor dining despite the order. On Dec. 7, over 100 people showed up at the restaurant's Agoura Hills location to rally in support of the restaurant. Servers served many unmasked customers in an outdoor patio as Foldes and restaurant owners claimed the mandate violated their constitutional rights.
"I've done everything I'm supposed to do and invested a ton of money in outdoor dining and all the experts say that outdoor dining is safe, and nobody has brought any evidence to say it isn't, but if you go to the mall, you can buy furniture, you can buy jewelry, you can go to the Home Depot, you can go to Lowe's and buy a rake or a leaf blower, so that's unfair - why do I have to shut down and have my business fail and they don't have to have theirs?" he said to a cheering crowd.
The next day, the City of Agoura Hills released a statement saying that it was "disappointed" in the restaurant, and said that it was showing a "dangerous disregard for the well-being of others in Agoura Hills in light of the pandemic." The city turned the matter over to the Los Angeles County Health Department, which revoked the restaurant's permit, and continued to fine the restaurant $500 almost day, Foldes told Patch. The restaurant has appealed the decision, and continues to operate.
On Wednesday, Agoura Hills announced that City Manager Nathan Hamburger had issued an executive order allowing restaurants to once again apply for a Temporary Outdoor Operations Permit. Businesses that previously received these permits will be contacted to re-apply. It is unlikely that Cronies will be eligible to receive one.
Meanwhile, Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill in Burbank has also defied the outdoor dining ban and mask requirements. On Dec. 15, a public health inspector observed more than 25 customers dining outdoors, according to the suit. Like Foldes, owner Baret Lepejian has taken a moral stand against masks and lockdowns, and has attracted similar rallies in support. He wrote on the restaurant's Facebook page that "Forced closures and illegal mandates have nothing to with public safety...only about fear [and] control."
The City of Burbank told Lepejian that his restaurant would either need to come into compliance with the outdoor dining ban by Jan. 18, or face a possible revocation of a conditional use permit, according to a report from Eater Los Angeles. If that permit were revoked, the restaurant would be operating illegally, and Lepejian might face criminal charges.
On Dec. 15, a public health inspector saw more than 25 customers dining in the outdoor patio of the Tin Horn Flats restaurant, the suit states. A revocation hearing was held by the county Department of Public Health for the eatery's public health permit on Jan. 20, according to the suit, but the CUP was not pulled.
— City News Service and Patch editor Michael Wittner contributed to this report.