Susan Shelley: Will the victims of draconian COVID policies ever get an apology?

Susan Shelley: Will the victims of draconian COVID policies ever get an apology?

Government officials love to apologize for things that government officials did, as long as they are not the government officials in question.

Apologies for things that were done fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago are becoming almost as common as the “National Donut Day” type of announcements that fill the in-boxes of news organizations in the quest for favorable publicity.

One thing government officials generally don’t do is apologize for anything they did personally.

For example, there has been no apology from California or Los Angeles County officials for the ruinous restrictions on the operation of restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, which were enforced even when officials could site no data to justify them. While big-box stores such as Walmart and Costco were allowed to operate, small businesses were crushed like a bug.

Restaurants and bars were especially hammered, and the reason had more to do with the ease of enforcement than any evidence of public health risk. Health permits and liquor licenses are easily revoked, so it doesn’t take much to intimidate the owners of these businesses into silent compliance. The same is true of hair and nail salons, businesses that require permits and licensing from the government in order to operate legally.

It takes a lot of initiative, intelligence, investment and hard work to open a small business, so the people who do that are not easily intimidated. It takes a lot to scare them out of speaking up.

And “a lot” is exactly what happened to one particular business, Tinhorn Flats, a family-owned Burbank restaurant and bar that stood up to the government and was destroyed for it.

Los Angeles County has now asked L.A. Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis for a judgment in the county’s favor in a long-running public nuisance lawsuit against Tinhorn Flats, as well as in the business owner’s countersuit, which alleges that the county’s outdoor dining ban in late 2020 was unconstitutional. County lawyers asked the judge for an order prohibiting Barfly, the operating company of Tinhorn Flats, from ever reopening the restaurant or opening any other restaurant in Los Angeles County unless all permits are obtained and all health orders are obeyed, which probably is an attempt to collect outstanding fines. A hearing is scheduled for May 4.

For context, you may remember that L.A. County’s November 2020 ban on outdoor dining was fiercely contested. When asked by the Board of Supervisors, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer could not produce any evidence that outdoor dining at restaurants was contributing to the spread of COVID-19. Then-Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted in favor of the ban, then hours later was spotted dining outdoors at a restaurant. California Health Secretary Mark Ghaly stated at a press conference that the ban was “not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining” but “really has to do with the goal of trying to keep people at home,” and Gov. Gavin Newsom got into some political trouble when he was photographed dining out with a crowd of lobbyists at the luxurious French Laundry restaurant.

If you’re not a high-powered lobbyist or government official, and you decide to go against them, they’re not going to make it easy for you.

Tinhorn Flats defiantly served customers on its patio, so in early 2021, Barbara Ferrer’s public health department revoked its health permit. A co-owner of the restaurant was arrested by Burbank police three times for violating COVID-19 compliance demands. Fines have racked up totaling more than $50,000.

The restaurant was evicted and the property was sold. Tinhorn Flats is thoroughly crushed, and the rubble is a warning to all who would dare to challenge unreasonable government restrictions.

But the company’s countersuit against L.A. County, filed in July 2021, is not quite dead. Last September, Judge Duffy-Lewis threw out most of the company’s legal claims, but she did allow its attorneys to amend the complaint and allege just one thing: a violation of the clause of the U.S. Constitution that protects the right to freedom of assembly.

Time will tell whether the one-time owners of this former restaurant will prevail on that claim, but you can be sure of one thing. A hundred years from now, they’ll get an apology.

Write and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley