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South Bay Business Owners Say They're Beset by Bogus Coronavirus Violation Complaints

LOS GATOS (KPIX) -- Alex Hult placed his tables and chairs outside all three of his Bay Area restaurants and posted the COVID-19 protocols he was following on his business doors.

Flights Restaurant in Los Gatos
Flights in Los Gatos. (CBS)

Then he said he was paid a surprise visit by Santa Clara County health officials. They told him someone had filed a complaint and that the person had witnessed indoor dining at his Los Gatos Flights location.

"We told them that was definitely not happening," said Hult. "They just show up and it's basically everyone's fear."

Hult says the complaint was bogus. He's not the only one who has experienced a similar incident. Another business owner told KPIX they believe they also received a fake complaint about a coronavirus violation. They wondered if it was a competitor, a disgruntled customer or employee. The business owners may never know.

"You do not have to provide your contact information," said Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health director Michael Balliet.

He said the process has also allowed them to identify numerous violators and that's all thanks to the community. Balliet said they receive about 150 complaints per week and that every one of them is evaluated.

"We do have an enforcement officer team that goes through and evaluates each one; we do research from looking at social media," Balliet said. "The community continues to be really concerned and reports those concerns to us, which we absolutely appreciate."

So far, the county has handed out 17 citations and 12 of those were corrected before a fine was levied.

Balliet said they lean toward education rather than enforcement.

"It's kind of the same thing as Yelp," Hult said.

The county's website also allows people to upload pictures and videos of violators to help county officials sift through what is real and pertinent.

"Most businesses out there want to do the right thing," Balliet said. "Most businesses are in compliance."

Hult said he's OK with the county health visits because it holds business owners accountable and ensures they are following guidelines.

"It is very stressful but I think it's one of those stresses that you have to live with," Hult said.

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