California restaurants want a state refund after facing pandemic restrictions

By Katy Murphy 10/26/2020 09:50 PM EDT

California’s pandemic-battered restaurant sector has been shuttered or operating with strict public health restrictions for most of the year. Now it is demanding its money back.

The news: A group of restaurant owners filed claims in five counties on Monday, as well as with the state of California, asking for refunds for the types of regulatory fees they’ve had to pay while closed or opened at partial capacity, such as for liquor licenses, health permits and state tourism assessments.

They began with Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Sacramento and Monterey counties, according to a statement from the plaintiffs’ attorney, Brian Kabateck. They also filed a claim with the state, according to a spokesperson for Kabateck, and plan to target San Francisco, Fresno and Placer counties in the coming days.

Impact: Such filings, often a precursor to a class-action lawsuit, ratchet up the pressure on the Newsom administration to aid the ailing industry. Kabateck said the action “could result in tens of millions of dollars returned to California restaurants.”

Context: The California Restaurant Association for months has pleaded with the Newsom administration for relief during the pandemic, such as delayed implementation of long-planned minimum wage hikes, which will take effect as scheduled in January, and fee relief.

Now, with the threat of a lawsuit, the sector is sharpening its approach.

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

State response: The Newsom administration responded with a statement detailing some of the regulatory relief it has provided to restaurants, including rules allowing alcohol take-out and delivery and delayed renewal fees for 30 days.

“From the start of the pandemic, the Administration has been deeply sympathetic to the difficulties facing restaurants across the state…,” said the statement provided by Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. “[Alcoholic Beverage Control] has kept an open line of communication with the industry throughout and continues to do so in order to hear the concerns and ideas from the industry as we respond to the pandemic while fueling our economic recovery.”

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