Garcetti loosens banner restrictions after cafe is fined

After city building inspectors fined a coffee shop for hanging a sign that read “Open for takeaway and delivery,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti cut the sentence Friday and paved the way for more businesses To put up banners.

This week, the owners of Crave Cafe in Studio City received a letter fined $ 356 from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. AJ Shalob, 38, runs the diner with his family. He said the expensive fine weighs heavily on the restaurant, which has seen its business decline 70% since the coronavirus outbreak began.

“You are asking me about something I don’t have,” Shalob said Thursday. “If we go on like this, we’re done, we won’t last.”

During Friday night’s press conference, Garcetti said the fine was imposed after Building and Safety received a complaint about the banner being hung without permission in violation of city rules.

“While the inspectors were doing the work we ask them to do based on the way the rules were written, I’m changing those rules tonight so they can continue to focus on helping businesses,” Garcetti said. “We have to support companies that work safely, not quote.”

The mayor “temporarily waves to companies to get approval for these types of fines. In addition, the city will lift all fines that have been imposed. ”

Shalob called the decision a great relief: “We got what we were looking for.”

It was difficult to keep Crave open during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shalob said. The restaurant had to lay off more than a dozen workers as customers stay at home. The ever-changing health orders have brought more challenges, he said. Restrictions on indoor dining have been particularly difficult as the restaurant doesn’t have a large outdoor seating area, he said.

“You keep saying: ‘We want to support the small businesses, not close them down, people go bankrupt.’ Well, they make us do that. We try everything, “Shalob said.

The restaurant is “my baby…. I spend 14 to 16 hours a day in the store, sometimes seven days a week. This is where I get my bread and butter and feed my family and children, ”said Shalob. He has been running the restaurant for almost six years with his sister and mother.

Shalob hoped the sign would attract more customers. Many residents had called to ask if Crave was closed after seeing chairs on tables, Shalob said. He had the banner printed and lined up. More customers came in after that, he said.

Other nearby businesses have posted signs as well. Everyone was fined: 24 Hot Chicken & Waffle Bar, Fantastic Sam’s Salon, Chop Stop Salad Shop, and Trader Joe’s.

“I don’t even damage the city, you know, I don’t damage the view, I don’t destroy the building. I put a sign right on my door, a nice banner, ”Shalob said.

Construction and safety spokesman Jeff Napier said his department had no choice but to waive the fine after receiving a complaint and investigating.

“Our approach has always been impartial. We do not represent any party. We look at this and if there is a violation and we need to address it, we take the necessary action, ”said Napier.

He said the department would usually warn businesses about imposing a fine, but there had been no inspectors on the store fronts because of the coronavirus, which may have contributed to a lack of communication.

“Our workforce is pretty low so the inspectors don’t have the luxury of getting their typical range,” said Napier.

Esther Walker, executive director of the Studio City Chamber of Commerce, criticized the fines ahead of Garcetti’s announcement.

“I find it absurd,” she said. “Companies need all the help they can get, not just from community members who support them, but above all from the city. Punishing someone for hanging a banner outside their shop saying we’re open for takeaway and roadside is just so narrow minded. “

Garcetti, who first acknowledged the restaurant’s fine after being asked about it during a press conference Wednesday, said he knew “Corporations struggle to stay open. We must do all we can to help. They are struggling to pay their employees, they are struggling to serve their community, and I want them to know that their city is here to help. “

After the rules were relaxed, Shalob pondered how the city could improve its business: He wants to see an order urging property managers to allow restaurants to set up outside of eating areas in parking lots.

“Right now we are all in pain. Medicine is next to us. Help us, ”he said.