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Two SLO County supervisors urge Gov. Newsom to cease pandemic-related ABC citations

California Alcoholic Beverage Control
ABC Spokesperson John Carr said ABC prefers voluntary compliance over enforcement action, but it will take enforcement action when businesses are not cooperative or refuse to comply with state health orders.

Two San Luis Obispo County officials are urging the Newsom administration to stop using Alcoholic Beverage Control, ABC, to cite local businesses for pandemic-related violations. 

In August, Aaron Bergh, owner of Calwise Spirit Company in Paso Robles, got a grim warning from ABC for operating indoors when COVID restrictions didn’t allow it. 

“When we had triple digit heat and the thickest smoke I ever experienced in my life, I couldn’t operate my business outdoors," Bergh said. "So I catered indoors in a very safe manner, and I got dinged for it.”

Bergh complied, but had he not, he faced thousands of dollars in fines, a misdemeanor charge and potentially getting his liquor license revoked.

He’s not the only one to receive warnings in SLO County. Last month, ABC spokesperson John Carr said the agency issued three warnings to restaurants and wineries for violating health orders.

Bergh said threats from ABC are terrifying at a time when businesses are still struggling. 

“We really care about the pandemic, we are doing all we can. We are taking utmost safety precautions but at the same time we need to be allowed to operate," Bergh said. "We can't throw the baby out with the bath water with all these crazy business restrictions.”

Bergh helped craft a letter with SLO County supervisors John Peschong and Debbie Arnold to send to Governor Newsom, asking the state to ease ABC enforcement for restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries.

Arnold said she sympathizes with business owners.

“It’s kind of a helpless feeling," Arnold said. "To be representing your constituents with no voice to enter into a conversation that has such high stakes for us.”

Arnold said she and Peschong think issuing hefty fines and threatening actions against licenses will only further damage the industry and force businesses to close. 

“In a perfect world," Arnold said "We would be able to make some of our local decisions that might provide at least a little more balance so that we can both protect the health and safety of the public and allow our businesses to at least survive while this goes on.”

It’s unknown if Governor Newsom’s office will reply, but letters from the supervisors to the state in the past with pandemic-related issues and concerns have been ignored.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.