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California issued millions in COVID fines, local businesses work to pay it off

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Posted at 7:24 AM, Jun 26, 2021

Local businesses have been working to achieve economic recovery, but one setback for many is COVID-19 related fines.

As of April 2021, California’s workplace safety agency ordered $4.6 million in fines for nearly 200 workplaces for not complying with COVID-19 protocols.

“I defied the shutdown order and I did it publicly, as sort of a protest… We were suffering as a business. We would’ve lost the business had we complied with the order,” said Vino Et Amicis Wine Bar Owner Kurt Hixenbaugh.

Since the start of the pandemic, inspectors with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal-OSHA, were responsible for keeping a close eye on businsses to maintain COVID-19 safety.

“Being compliant, following all the rules like we were doing all at that point, our business was down 75-80%, so we were barely hanging on. And to shut us down completely. Well, we’re done,” Hixenbaugh said.

Like many other businesses, Vino Et Amicis Wine Bar took a hit financially during the pandemic. To make ends meet, they decided to stay completely open and just take the $3,000 fine.

“We considered it the cost of doing business. We knew we were violating the rules. We were making a statement by doing it,” said Hixenbaugh.

Violations local businesses were getting caught for included failing to maintain proper safety and training plans and lacking protective equipment such as masks or plexiglass barriers.

Fitness center, Club 24, shares the same sentiment that it’s what they had to do to survive.

“We were just trying to stay open and stay in business, be able to help the community out with having an outlet both physical and mental,” Club 24 manager Sanaz Rhami said.

Club 24 is currently appealing its $1,000 fine.

“Our intent was never to go against the city, right. We want to do everything we can as a small business owner to make sure San Luis thrives,” said Rahmi.

Others have gotten an outpouring of support from the community to help pay off their fines.

“This community here in Old Town Orcutt is just amazing. A GoFundMe was started on our behalf to pay our legal expenses,” said Hixenbaugh.

Local businesses say they haven’t fully recovered from the pandemic yet. But moving forward, they hope to work on a better relationship with city officials to ensure customers feel safe.