San Mateo County on Thursday received a temporary restraining order to shut down a Pacifica yoga studio for repeated COVID-19 health violations, according to county officials.
Pacifica Beach Yoga has been holding indoor, mask-free yoga classes at a time when all gyms, fitness centers and yoga studios are under state health orders to cease indoor operations, the county said. The studio also failed to require staff and patrons to wear face coverings.
“How many people have I put in those ICU beds?," said studio owner Thomas Antoon. "How many people have left my studio permeating with the COVID virus? Zero.”
According to the lawsuit requesting the injunction, Antoon refused repeated requests by county staff to voluntarily comply with public health orders.
"This business has left us no choice," San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers said in a statement. "Our community rightly expects that when its state government imposes shelter-in-place laws, those laws will be enforced justly and equitably to ensure that everyone is playing by the same rules. Pacifica Beach Yoga has repeatedly, knowingly and flagrantly decided not to follow the rules that other businesses in this county are following. That is dangerous and cannot be allowed to continue."
In response to the ruling, Supervisor David Canepa released a rather blunt warning Friday morning that he hopes others will heed.
"We have a simple and clear message, wear your damn masks or risk having your business close," Canepa said. "Let this be a lesson to all other business owners who refuse to obey the law, and there are many, that if you violate the law, you will be punished. It’s not about you, it’s about everyone around you, including your friends, your loved ones and the people you don’t even know who you come in contact with. Until we end COVID, we must adhere to the rules or risk more deaths and economic calamity."
The county’s COVID Business Compliance Team received at least 26 online complaints against Pacifica Beach Yoga since late October, alleging health order violations, the county said. The team investigates complaints with the goal of educating violators and, when necessary, issues written warnings and citations.
After multiple visits and warnings to the studio, a county compliance officer issued a $250 citation on Nov. 14. After subsequent citations, the officer imposed fines totaling $3,750.
“We’ve created a health order that’s based in science and data. And for someone to have the audacity to, after we’ve tried to educate them, after we fined them, and basically is thumbing their nose at the county, we need to make sure that we take the appropriate action," Canepa said.
According to Canepa, this is the first time the county has sued a business to force it closure under the health order. He said officials gave Antoon several orders and then fined him before finally taking him to court.
However, Antoon said his business needs to stay open to survive and argues his studio is an essential business.
“I have people with arthritis, neuropathy, all kinds of mental health issues, depression," he said.
Antoon closed his business as ordered, but is planning on connecting with a social activist and figure out his next move.
A hearing on the injunction is set for Feb. 4, at which time the court will evaluate the further need for the injunction, the county said.
As of Jan. 20, San Mateo County has recorded 33,207 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 309 deaths since the pandemic began.
Pacifica Beach Yoga is the first business the county has sought court action against for failure to follow health orders.