Coronavirus in San Diego County

San Diego City Attorney Takes Action to Shut Down Defiant Business

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For the first time, San Diego's City Attorney's office has taken action to close down a business defiant in the face of the state and county's health orders.

NBC 7 learned on Thursday that Boulevard Fitness, a gym on El Cajon Boulevard that ignored public health orders for weeks, was threatened with more than $100,000 in fines.

The owner of Boulevard Fitness, located between Mississippi and Alabama streets in University Heights, abruptly closed the gym's doors late on Wednesday -- and now we know why. In the end, it was the heavy hand of the city attorney's office, the final straw for the gym after weeks of ignoring public health orders and police citations.

"For more than a month, Boulevard Fitness ignored the county's orders to stop endangering the health of its members and the public, " San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott told NBC 7. "My office stepped in and got quick compliance the same way we did with the Banker's Hill party house -- by laying out the fines and penalties we could seek if they continued breaking the law. The spread of COVID is a problem that my office takes seriously."

The action is not unprecedented in San Diego County: Earlier this month, criminal charges were filed against a gym owner in Ramona by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. Those charges were dismissed on Aug. 28 when the county compliance team confirmed to Stephan's office that the gym had come into compliance with state and county health orders.

On Friday, Boulevard Fitness was locked up, with a sign on the door that read, "Per city notice, we will be closed until further notice."

NBC 7 obtained a copy of a letter from the San Diego City Attorney that was hand-delivered to the gym. The letter doesn't pull any punches, telling gym owner Shawn Gilbert that he's in violation of county health orders and that the "business has been out of compliance for more than 45 days." The letter threatens to pursue an unfair business practices action and instructs Gilbert that he could be subject to fines of $2,500 a day for each violation and ordered to close. That's a minimum $112,500 fine.

Gilbert did not respond to NBC 7's request for comment on Thursday, but last month, he ripped into the state's decision to close indoor operations at gyms.

"The second closure, it's just unlawful and what Newsom's doing is unlawful," Gilbert said at the time. "We've complied with everything he's asked and we've done it."

So Gilbert decided to stay open, all the while ignoring multiple orders to close. Contact with officials began on July 21, when San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten issued a cease-and-desist order. On Aug. 5, county inspectors followed up and noted that the gym was still out of compliance. The next day, the county issued a closure order that included details of a July 30 inspection made by San Diego police. Then, on Aug. 11, the police vice squad issued a citation and the case was forwarded to the city attorney, who took decisive action on Wednesday.

"I know their intentions are good and they have people's welfare in mind, but some people are in a situation where they have to remain open to survive," said gym member Carlos Ortiz on Thursday outside the gym.

Another member, Devin Wilkes, said he was devastated.

"This is, like, my therapy, and I know for so many people, it's their therapy too," Wilkes said.

Gilbert has now created a fundraising page, detailing how he followed sanitation protocols. He also said that it would not be in his best business interests to risk the hefty fines by remaining open.

It's still not clear what the rules for gyms will be once businesses are allowed to reopen. Gilbert said he's working with his lawyers and is hopeful that he'll be able to reopen sooner than later.

This article was updated on Aug. 28 to reflect that criminal charges had been dropped against a Ramona gym owner -- Ed.

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