Monterey County health inspectors have paid a whopping 1,971 visits to businesses since September. Their inspections include the routine stuff—checking for health code compliance on things like proper temperature controls in restaurants, hot water, etc.—but now also include monitoring for compliance with stay-at-home orders.
Overwhelmingly, business owners have been in compliance. And those that were out of compliance have mostly come around voluntarily. But officials did issue 12 citations for failure to comply.
The most extreme measure they can take is revoking a health permit; for a food business, a health permit is required to remain in operation.
They took that most extreme measure with Aloha Coffee & Cafe on Del Monte Avenue in Monterey, and the cafe's health permit was revoked on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
Health officials have taken an "education-first" approach, seeking voluntary compliance. Ric Encarnacion, assistant bureau chief of the county Environmental Health Bureau, says the few outliers have been brazenly non-compliant.
Aloha proprietor Richard Dunnuck's conduct has indeed been brazen. On Wednesday afternoon, after his permit was first suspended and then revoked, his "open" sign remained lit up and a two-page flier is posted on the door that reads in part: "Business: Know the law when the government comes knocking."
Dunnuck says he intends to sue Monterey County. He claims his choice not to comply with the county's mask-wearing ordinance (which pre-dates the current stay-at-home order) is due to a medical issue and "religious conviction." (He declined to provide details on either his medical condition or his religious beliefs; according to permit revocation records, he said he has asthma.)
County records show five "educational" visits from health inspectors before a notice of violation was issued for Aloha. Dunnuck was cited by police for ongoing failure to comply, then claimed police were harassing him when they issued the citation.
A revocation hearing was held on Dec. 16 via Zoom. In the decision rendered today by Administrative Law Judge Jacqueline Pierce, his permit was revoked and Dunnuck was ordered to pay $3,691 to cover court and inspection costs.
"Mr. Dunnuck produced no credible evidence that he falls within a health exemption," Pierce wrote. "There is no religious exemption outlined in the order, and in any event, there was no credible evidence produced of any religious reason for not wearing a mask."
Health officials first suspended Dunnuck's health permit, then gave him an opportunity to come into compliance. Instead, according to the hearing record, he continued to serve customers and flout the rules.
"The most alarming part of this sequence of events is Mr. Dunnuck’s complete defiance of the closure order. He continued to do business for many days after the order was given. He complains that his due process rights have been violated, however, it should be noted that the closure order provided for a way to submit a plan to Environmental Health to get the suspension of business lifted," Pierce wrote.
"Covid-19 is not a matter of opinion and Mr. Dunnuck should be held accountable for his lack of compliance with the order of the the Health Department."
The administrative hearing record shows six complaints by members of the public. Encarnacion encourages people to call 755-4505 if they observe violations of stay-at-home or mask-wearing requirements.