Mary Duan here, with an expanded version (plus some commentary) of a news story I wrote for this week’s print edition of the Weekly about Aloha Coffee & Cafe.
Rich Dunnuck sounded giddy when he called me on April 23 to tell me the news that PG&E seemed to be on his side. Dunnuck, owner of Aloha Coffee & Cafe in Monterey, has become a frequent flyer in Monterey County Superior Court. He’s been in and out of hearings since December, when the county Health Department pulled his health certificate after finding Dunnuck repeatedly violated pandemic health orders on masking and social distancing. Dunnuck, who could have shrugged it off and just complied, instead chose to fight.
Absent a health certificate he continued operating—and continued being pulled into court by the District Attorney’s Office. When on March 15, Judge Marla Anderson ordered PG&E to cut power to his business (which he had converted to a private membership club rather than a retail food operation—a maneuver he made because he thought it meant he didn’t need the health permit), Dunnuck figured out a work around: He obtained a generator, plugged it into a live outlet elsewhere in the building and went back to work.
Anderson put an end to that by ordering the building padlocked.
But while PG&E cooperated with the shutoff order, they went to court as well—not necessarily because they were on Dunnuck’s side, though. Superior Court, the utility’s attorney said in a 576-page motion for relief filed on April 16, was an improper venue to hear the matter and order the shutoff of their customer’s power. That request, the motion stated, should have been sent to an administrative law judge before the California Public Utilities Commission. Among those 576 pages—an exhibit of the CPUC’s emergency resolutions, including one issued April 17, 2020, that ordered utilities to implement customer protections during the pandemic.
The District Attorney opted not to argue against PG&E’s motion, figuring that since the building remains padlocked, unless and until Dunnuck comes to court with a newly issued health certificate, it’s a wash.
Dunnuck has yet to appear in court with an attorney, and sometimes doesn’t show up himself either. He tells me his concern is that any attorney he might hire would choose to be loyal to the system that’s prosecuting him first before they were loyal to him as a client. But he is getting legal advice, he tells me.
Most recently, Dunnuck filed a motion to remove his case from Monterey County altogether. Where he wants it to go isn’t entirely clear, but maybe he has a point: The case involves business and professions codes and Administrative Law Judges, whose existences are based on dealing with the complexities of such codes, might not be a bad idea.
Dunnuck will be back in court, at the Monterey Courthouse, on Monday. He has brought dozens of supporters with him in the past. This time, he says, he expects there to be 100.