Numerous struggling businesses, including small restaurants, are getting socked with penalties from the city of Los Angeles for posting banners telling customers they're open for takeout during the pandemic, the NBC4 I-Team has learned.
Above the entrance of the Crave Cafe in Studio City--where business is down 70% during the pandemic--the owner last month hung a banner that says "OPEN FOR TAKE-OUT AND DELIVERY."
"It really was important because it helped us in communicating to the community that we were still open, and many of them don't know that," said Rana Shalhoub, Crave Cafe's owner.
But Shalhoub found a notice in her mail this week from LA's Department of Building and Safety, ordering her to take down the banner and fining her $356. She promptly removed the banner.
"We're struggling to survive. I do think the city should have at least given us a warning to take down the sign, prior to fining us," Rana Shalhoub told NBC4.
Several neighboring businesses on Ventura Boulevard also got $356 fines for hanging banners saying they're still open, including the Chop Shop salad restaurant, Fantastic Sam's barbershop, Trader Joe's and the Hot Chicken and Waffle Bar.
The Department of Building and Safety told the I-Team in an email that the banners "require permits," and because the businesses didn't have those permits, they were in violation of the LA Municipal Code and received the fines.
The I-Team asked Mayor Eric Garcetti why the city isn't waiving the banner penalties for struggling businesses like Crave Cafe, the same way it's waived other penalties during the pandemic, such as parking in a street cleaning zone.
"I'm happy to follow up with you about that particular case," said Garcetti. "It's always my instinct to give businesses, especially now, to give businesses breaks."
Crave Cafe's owner Rana Shalhoub has a message for city leaders: "We are all in this together and in a pandemic we need to be more compassionate. And to target small business owners and even large business owners during something like this is very unfair."
So far, the Department of Building and Safety is telling Crave Cafe and other businesses they must pay the $356 fine within 30 days, or the fine will increase to $1,176.