The city of Burbank put a chain-link fence around a restaurant whose owners have repeatedly refused county orders to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photos circulating on social media show the fence after it was erected along the perimeter of the Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill on Magnolia Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California.
Last week, the restaurant co-owner was arrested for a third time after he removed sandbags that the city put in place at the entrance to prevent its reopening.
Lucas Lepejian, 20, the son of restaurant owner Baret Lepejian, was taken into custody on Tuesday just days after city crews were seen boarding up the eatery. This was the third time in six days that Lepejian was detained.
The city of Burbank, California placed a chain-link fence around the Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill on Magnolia Boulevard last week to prevent its owner from reopening in violation of lockdown orders
Lucas Lepejian, 20, the son of restaurant owner Baret Lepejian, was taken into custody on Tuesday just days after city crews were seen boarding up the eatery. This was the third time in six days that Lepejian was detained. Lucas Lepejian is seen above before his arrest on April 1
After Lepejian was released from custody on Tuesday, his restaurant posted an item on its Instagram page which included a photo of what appears to be a squad of local police officers in SWAT gear
The caption read: ‘This is the kind of Police Enforcement we are dealing with…they are coming in heavy handed afraid that Tinhorn Flats will make burgers and serve beers. Lucas is back out of jail for the 3rd time. What a truly sad time in Burbank CA. We will not comply.’
Lepejian was immediately released with a citation and is scheduled to appear in court at a later date, the Burbank Police Department said.
The restaurant has amassed about $50,000 in fines due to its owners repeatedly defying COVID-19 lockdown orders. Lepejian has vowed not to pay the fines.
City officials built the fence to prevent the restaurant owners and customers from reopening after they repeatedly defied closure mandates handed down by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
After months-long negotiations between the city and the restaurant owners broke down, local courts allowed authorities to cut off electricity, according to NBC Los Angeles.
A judge also granted the city’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing the restaurant from reopening. Mark Geragos, the attorney representing the restaurant, said he will ask a court to dissolve the preliminary injunction.
Tinhorn Flats is a restaurant located in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. It serves Western-style comfort food and alcohol
Due to repeated attempts by the owner, Lepejian, to open in violation of lockdown orders, city officials padlocked the entrance to the restaurant last month
Burbank Police Lt. Derek Green said that the restaurant has been the site of ongoing demonstrations where crowds have come out both in support and in opposition to the restaurant’s owners.
Green said that area residents who live near the small business district where the restaurant is located have been ‘impacted by the commotion’ though he noted that the demonstrations have been ‘for the most part’ peaceful.
‘We will be out there to maintain peace and order,’ he said.
Lepejian has been running the restaurant while his father has been living in Thailand.
He was first arrested on April 1 on suspicion of violating a court order and then again the next day for the same offense, according to police.
In a statement released last month, the Burbank Police Department said it ‘vehemently condemns’ Lepejian’s ‘persistent unlawful behavior.’
After Lepejian was released from custody on Tuesday, his restaurant posted an item on its Instagram page which included a photo of what appears to be a squad of local police officers in SWAT gear.
The caption read: ‘This is the kind of Police Enforcement we are dealing with…they are coming in heavy handed afraid that Tinhorn Flats will make burgers and serve beers. Lucas is back out of jail for the 3rd time.
‘What a truly sad time in Burbank CA. We will not comply.’
Lepejian told the Los Angeles Times that things ‘really hit the fan’ on the day before Thanksgiving, when the LACDPH imposed a ban on all in-person dining – including outdoor dining – due to the rampant spread of COVID-19.
At the time, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations reached record levels in LA County and throughout much of California.
Angela Marsden, the owner of the Pineapple Hill Grill & Saloon in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, posted a video that went viral on social media after her restaurant was barred from servicing outdoor diners in late November
She blasted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for allowing a company filming a movie to set up a tent with an outdoor eating section right next to her own bar, which was forced to shut down its outdoor dining area due to the recent lockdown measures
Marsden pointed out that her own patio (seen above) was socially distanced and that her bar had taken measures to protect customers from the spread of the coronavirus
Lepejian told the Times that Tinhorn Flats transitioned to offering just take out and delivery to comply with the local government’s orders.
But the restaurant, like tens of thousands of others in the area, was taking a financial blow. So Lepejian reopened outdoor service in violation of lockdown orders.
On January 8, the city of Burbank hit the restaurant with a notice of violation. Later that month, the eatery’s health permit was canceled, making it illegal for the business to sell food.
While other restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining in January, Tinhorn Flats was ordered to remain closed.
On March 13, the city received permission from an LA County Superior Court judge to cut off electricity due to repeated violations.
In response, Lepejian arranged for a generator to produce a limited amount of power.
A few days later, the restaurant’s doors were padlocked shut by the city, which received permission to do so from a court.
Lepejian then used a saw to cut the lock off the door. Video of Lepejian removing the lock was posted on social media. A small crowd of supporters could be heard cheering him on.
‘The city locked up the restaurant with wooden planks so when I came by at 11am, there were wooden planks up on all the doors including the door on the inside and the only way they were able to do that was jumping our fence so that’s trespassing,’ Lepejian told Fox 11 TV just before his arrest earlier this month.
‘As soon as I saw that, I came in and I sawed it right off.’
Last week, restaurants in Los Angeles County were permitted to resume service for indoor dining at 50 per cent capacity thanks to a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases
The chart above shows the steep decline in recent weeks in the number of hospitalizations in LA County
County public health officials have also reported a steep drop in the number of COVID-19 deaths
The latest figures also show a parallel decline in the number of positive diagnostic tests
‘This has been a challenging situation that may not be easily understood and resolved, especially when you are dealing with persons who willfully disobey the law,’ the city said in a recent statement.
‘This is a very divisive issue within our city and it’s at a time when we should be focusing on our recovery from the pandemic, but instead it is being overshadowed by this one defiant actor in our community.’
Lepejian has denied that the restaurant poses a threat to public safety.
‘The city’s trying to make it very political,’ he said.
‘I just think every business is essential, a legitimate one that pays taxes, has employees and affects many other people too.
Lepejian added: ‘We’re looking at $40,000 to $50,000 now and it’s just tyranny and communism that’s occurring.
‘Our overhead is quite high right now to maintain the place with all these generators that a lot of our guests let us borrow.’
In the months since the pandemic started last year, more than 30,000 restaurants in LA County were closed to in-person diners after a statewide shutdown order in March relegated them to offering takeout.
They never fully recovered as they tried to navigate ever-changing regulations for reopening that eventually allowed dining on patios and makeshift seating areas in alleys, parking lots, sidewalks and blocked-off streets.
But as cases surged in November, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer cut the outdoor dining capacity in half and said it would be banned altogether if daily case counts exceeded 4,000.
The decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in LA County is parallel to similar trends statewide in California
California has been able to partially lift lockdown orders thanks to drop in hospitalizations and greater availability of ICU beds
The state has also reported sharp declines in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 as well as deaths
Most of the state has emerged from the most severe level of COVID-19 risk
The closure orders nonetheless sparked intense backlash from business owners, mayors, lawmakers, and sheriffs who said that banning outdoor dining and closing children’s playgrounds are unnecessary and ‘not supported by science.’
One bar owner, Angela Marsden, posted a viral video online slamming Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom for forcing her business, the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in Sherman Oaks, to shut down outdoor dining while allowing a movie company to set up its own eating section in a nearby parking lot.
Restaurant owners sued the county in court seeking a lifting of the closures, but last month the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld the county’s right to implement the closures in the name of public health.
As COVID-19 cases have fallen in recent months, the county has gradually moved to lift restrictions. Indoor dining is now permitted at 50 per cent capacity.
Lepejian’s father, Beret, who bought the restaurant 17 years ago, told the Times that he supports his son’s actions.
‘Show me one shred of evidence how I am endangering the public,’ Baret Lepejian told the Times.
‘This has never been about safety or the public. It’s never been about that.
‘This whole thing is about fear and control.’