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Long Beach cuts off gas service to restaurant that refused to stop serving patio diners

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For weeks, Dana Tanner has kept her Long Beach restaurant open for outdoor patio dining in defiance of pandemic safety regulations. She had two tables left to serve Saturday afternoon when city workers showed up, she said, and shut off her gas.

It’s the latest in a string of enforcement efforts officials have lodged against Restauration and Tanner personally in recent weeks, she said, including nine citations and misdemeanor charges. Still, Tanner refuses to close her doors.

“I’ve seen the damage this does to people when they lose their livelihood,” she said. “I refuse to participate in that.”

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So, she dusted off some stove tops and a countertop fryer in her storage, bought an electric water heater from Home Depot and worked with her chef to revise her menu. French fries and steak are off the table. Pancakes take up too much space to make, she said, but she does have enough room for French toast.

Tanner reopened for brunch the next morning.

A representative for the city could not be reached Sunday. Spokesman Kevin Lee told the Long Beach Post that the city took the step of turning off Restauration’s gas after warning Tanner that they would do so if she stayed open against COVID-19 rules.

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The strict enforcement efforts against Tanner’s restaurant come as L.A. County has recorded more than 5,000 COVID-19-related deaths in less than a month, a pace that highlights the rampant and ruthless spread of the virus. The Department of Public Health’s official death toll stood at 15,162 Saturday after 269 deaths and 10,537 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. Overall, the county’s confirmed case total reached 1,064,887.

Tanner said none of her 13 employees have tested positive — and if they are potentially exposed, she requires a negative test before they can return to work.

“I’m knocking on my head right now,” she said. “We’re super cautious.”

L.A. County officials shut down outdoor dining just before Thanksgiving as coronavirus cases started to surge, a controversial decision requiring restaurants and other eateries to stop in-person dining outdoors and instead provide only takeout and delivery. It was a major setback for many restaurants that were struggling to survive on takeout alone and others that had invested thousands of dollars into building outdoor patios.

Tanner said she closed for two weeks at the time.

She said she started to get “pummeled” by city officials earlier this month. On Jan. 15, Tanner was charged with four misdemeanor counts of refusing health orders, according to the L.A. County Superior Court’s online database. She said inspectors typically show up twice a day, taking pictures and issuing citations, and her landlord is facing pressure to evict her.

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The city’s Code Enforcement Bureau taped a notice on her door on Friday saying her gas would be shut off within 24 hours, along with information about her right to appeal within five days.

“I’m pretty emotionally drained at this point,” she said. “I’m not breaking any laws.”

She said other restaurant owners have chosen to stay open but wishes more would do so. One, she said, is on her third citation. But Tanner, who opened Restauration in 2014, said she knows of none who have faced as harsh penalties as she has.

The Long Beach Post reported that city officials have said they’ve taken such extreme enforcement actions against Tanner because of her “continued flagrant violations” of the city’s health order.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said last year that he would authorize the city to shut off water and power to residents who hold large parties.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said it cut utilities earlier this month to a Fairfax district home where at least three parties were held in violation of the city’s ban on large gatherings.

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