Lawsuit: San Diego Restaurants seek refunds on permitting fees

Posted at 4:38 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 20:27:38-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A downtown San Diego restaurant is leading the charge for refunds of permitting fees from the state and county, according to a new lawsuit.

Cowboy Star argues the County Health Department and State Alcohol Beverage Control should refund restaurants permitting fees for portions of the year in which coronavirus restrictions forced them to severely reduce services.

"I paid the same price for that health fee and that permit fee in 2019 as I did in 2020, but if we compare the actual numbers it's a huge difference," said Jon Weber, Cowboy Star's co-owner.

The ABC and the county both said they don't comment on pending litigation.

Weber said sales are down 90% at Cowboy Star, which is now takeout only. The employee count has dropped from about 60 workers pre-Covid to four. Additionally, Cowboy Star completed a more than $500,000 renovation in February 2020, and had to shut down indoor dining six weeks later.

"We were set to have a fun, good 2020 and then things kind of turned around," Weber said.

The county has deferred restaurant fees through March and the state may waive ABC fees in 2021, but Weber said cash flow is an issue now. He said Cowboy Star needs funds to pay vendors ahead of when it gets back up to speed, before new revenue comes in.

Weber said both agencies ignored refund requests, which he estimates total about $3,000 in fees.

"Back in 2019 that wouldn't sound like a whole lot of money to me. I say that now and it's the difference between maybe opening your doors and maybe not opening your doors," he said.

Brian Kabateck, the attorney representing Cowboy Star, said he has filed similar lawsuits across the state.

"All we're asking for in this lawsuit is to return to the restaurant owners a share or a percentage of the money that the state and the county really didn't earn because the restaurants were closed," he said.

Cowboy Star is also part of a lawsuit challenging the governor's tiered system of restrictions. A hearing is scheduled next month.