coronavirus pandemic

San Diego Eatery Wants State Fees to Be Refunded Due to Pandemic Closures

The owner of the Gaslamp's Cowboy Star says his business in his survival mode

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Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop co-owner Jon Weber told NBC 7 on Tuesday that his business is in survival mode.

It’s been a difficult time for most restaurants, trying to stay within state health code restrictions while sustaining a huge blow to their bottom line.

Cowboy Star in the Gaslamp is part of a wave of restaurants across California whose owners have filed claims against the state and their corresponding counties after having paid fees to operate their restaurants despite being ordered to close or operate at a reduced capacity.

Weber said the refund they’re seeking isn’t even that much but that to a business that’s trying to get by, it has more value than you might think. Weber said that seeking to recoup these costs is another attempt to stay above water.

“We’ve been asked to rethink how we do business and how we keep the doors open, and, you know, this is one way for us to survive,” Weber said.

The restaurant owner said he’s specifically looking to get reimbursed for the three months he was forced to close down completely due to pandemic restrictions. He said he had no other alternative, saying his downtown location couldn’t afford him the space to operate outdoors and he lacked the bandwidth to operate in takeout- mode only. Weber broke down some of the restaurant fees he pays.

“Typically, all the fees that we pay are annual, so beginning of the year or at some part during the year, we pay a fee for the full year to sell liquor or to operate as a restaurant where we serve food,” Weber said. “We're unique because we're downtown, so we pay a tourism fee. We have a scale in the butcher shop, so we pay a fee for weights and measures.”

NBC 7 spoke with civil attorney Brian Kapateck about the situation. He said his client Cowboy Star and other restaurants like it are law-abiding and diligent with the public health order, and that Cowboy Star shouldn’t have to pay when it couldn’t operate as a fully functioning restaurant due to tjhe state's pandemic restrictions.

“It's hard for me to imagine that the government, both in the state and local county, haven't considered that they're collecting fees for a service they're not providing,” Kapateck said.

Kapateck said he has filed other claims in California against other counties and the state alleging the same offense, telling NBC 7 that businesses are struggling to hold on and the fees businesses were compelled to pay exacerbates their current financial hardships. He said more claims are coming.

“It's really kind of an outrage, and it's the sort of thing where, come on, give these people a break,” Kapateck said. “At least give them their money back when you told them they can't operate their restaurant.”

Kapateck said the county and state have 45 days to comply or a class action lawsuit could be filed. Weber said he doesn’t want this to turn into a lawsuit, but he does want to keep his business up and running.

“We understand that fees are essential, but we also don't think anyone would argue that it doesn't make sense to be expected to pay these fees for the times we were forced to be closed,” Weber said.

NBC 7 contacted the county for a comment regarding this story but has not yet heard back.

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