After Defying Public Health Rules, San Diego Gym Will Likely Pay Zero In Fines
The owner of a gym in University Heights that kept its doors open for more than two months this summer despite multiple orders to shut down will likely pay nothing in fines for violating public health rules.
Boulevard Fitness closed its doors on Aug. 26 after the San Diego City Attorney's Office threatened to prosecute the owner and impose fines of up to $2,500 for each day it operated unlawfully. But the gym reopened on Monday, just five days later, under the state's new guidelines that allow indoor gyms to operate at 10% capacity.
A spokesperson for City Attorney Mara Elliott said the goal of threatening legal action was to gain compliance from the gym owner.
"Our concerns are that health orders are followed from now on," Hilary Nemchick said in an email. "Once reopened, Boulevard Fitness must be in compliance with whatever regulations are in effect at the time or face prosecution."
Rebecca Fielding-Miller, a professor at the UCSD School of Public Health, said it's understandable if people feel upset when rule breakers are not punished, and that punitive actions like fines or jail time might be necessary in some cases of businesses endangering public health.
But she said social pressure can be just as effective.
"Work with the public to make it so it is just socially unacceptable to put us at risk," Fielding-Miller said. "It is not okay for you to go lift weights if it means my kid can't go to third grade. That is not an acceptable social tradeoff."
Bryan Welch is general manager of Point Loma Sports Club, a gym that followed the county's order to close indoor operations in mid-July. He said that decision was easier because the gym had access to a large parking lot where it was able to set up outdoor work stations.
Welch said other gyms are less fortunate, and that he would not judge business owners too harshly if shutting down would mean getting evicted or going bankrupt. But he said the pandemic would be over faster if everyone followed the rules.
"I think it's less about punishment and more about community," Welch said. "The most important thing we can do is make sure nobody gets sick here."