SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego County began notifying restaurants Thursday of $4.5 million in permit fee refunds for the period of March 16, 2020, through June 15 of this year -- the result of a recent settlement in a lawsuit brought by a local restaurant group.
The class-action settlement was for all restaurants and limited food preparation facilities that paid or were required to pay annual permit fees to the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health and Quality.
“To its credit, San Diego County stepped up very early. They recognized that this was a real issue and this was something that needed to be done to help the restaurant owners,” said Brian Kabateck, the lead attorney representing the California Restaurant Association, who filed the class-action lawsuit.
It provides a 50% refund of annual permit fees to restaurants that paid, and 50% credit to those that owe annual permit fees. It also waives late fees for untimely payment of permit fees that were due through that time period, as long as the fees are paid within 12 months of the original due date or by December 31, 2021, whichever is sooner.
The amount is in addition to $118.9 million already provided to restaurants by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to help offset the impact of California's stay-at-home and local public health orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Restaurant owners and their employees suffered significant losses because of COVID-19," said Nathan Fletcher, chair of the Board of Supervisors. "As the industry rebuilds, this refund will aid restaurants in their economic recovery and is in addition to the tens of millions of dollars provided to them during the height of the pandemic."
One restaurant owner News 8 talked to says he was pleasantly surprised that permit refunds are on the way and agrees that any help the industry can get is much needed.
“There’s so many other struggles: just managing people, just unexpected things, customers. Any sort of morale boost is really going to help and money’s always a good morale boost,” said Dominic Change, co-owner of the Zen Curry Restaurant in Kearny Mesa.
Sarah Aghassi of the county's Land Use & Environment Group added, "the restaurant industry is a valued and important part of our local economy, and it has been seriously impacted by the pandemic closures. We look forward to maintaining our partnership as we move forward with our economic recovery."
To date, the county has provided $123.4 million to specifically help restaurants, including:
-- $12 million from county fee-related actions supporting restaurants including deferring health permit fees, not increased DEHQ fees and waiving some restaurant fees;
-- $90.2 million to fund the Great Plates program that partnered with restaurants during the pandemic to deliver meals to participating seniors from May 2020 through July 30, 2021; and
-- $16.72 million in support to restaurants and limited food preparation facilities through Small Business Stimulus Grant program.
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