Businesses fight back after Santa Clara County issues $6M in COVID fines

Santa Clara County stands to gain millions in fines levied against South Bay businesses.

The penalties are for a wide range of violations pertaining to COVID-19 restrictions. But some businesses are fighting their fines saying the penalties don’t fit the crimes.

The Salon Professional Academy in the Westgate Center Mall in west San Jose is like most businesses — struggling to shake off the negative economic effects of the COVID pandemic.

"We’re finally getting our clients back. People are becoming more comfortable," said co-owner Magdalena Wozniakowski.

What was uncomfortable for the cosmetology school’s owners was a fine Santa Clara County slapped on them for not having the proper COVID capacity sign displayed in the window.

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"They came by on a Saturday. We fixed the sign within 20 minutes and still got hit with a $3,500 fine," said Wozniakowski.

Other business owners have reported the same type of treatment from county enforcement officers.

"We got fined for farmers not wearing their masks properly," said Kayla Hayden, the manager of the Saratoga Farmers’ Market.

She said enforcement officers took pictures of alleged violations, as workers ate lunch or lifted heavy loads of produce during their one-day-a-week farmers’ market.

"Right when we received the fine we requested a hearing," Hayden said.

A report from the East Bay Times reveals Santa Clara County has fined over 400 businesses a whopping $6 million for COVID violations. That sum exceeds all other Bay Area counties. A quarter of those businesses fined have challenged the penalties, which is another hurdle in itself.

"It was a little jarring. It was eight hours long," said Hayden.

In the end, the farmers’ market won the appeal and had its fine rescinded. The cosmetology school had its $3,500 fine reduced to the original amount, $500.

County officials say these small victories prove the system works.

But for businesses struggling to rebound from the 'Great Shutdown,' it’s another obstacle to solvency.

"We had to deal with a lot of red tape. Take time out of our day," said Wozniakowski. "You have to fight certain things if you believe you’re not in the wrong, which in this case we didn’t feel we were."