San Antonio law enforcement officials have seen 880 violations of Mayor Ron Nienberg’s order to stay home and close non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, police department records show.
As of Monday afternoon, 12 people who tested positive for the virus in Bexar County have died. There are 456 confirmed cases. The City will provide regular updates to its emergency declaration enforcement report here.
Agencies agreed not to ticket those willing to comply after a vast majority of businesses agreed to close after one or two warnings from officials. Only 11 citations were issued between March 18 – when Nirenberg ordered bars and restaurant dining areas to close – and April 3. Seven of those were issued to various Planet K smoke and gift shops, which refused to close its locations in San Antonio for weeks.
Planet K is largely known for its sale of smoking accessories – officially for tobacco, but also often used for marijuana – and novelty gifts.
Four more citations, which can carry a fee of up to $2,000 or jail time, for Planet K were pending as of Friday. On Sunday, the City authorized the disconnection of electric, gas, and water utilities at an Austin Highway location. It’s the first and only time, so far, during the coronavirus outbreak that the City has revoked a certificate of occupancy.
Planet K argues that under the statewide order that came last week following the City and Bexar County’s order, it is an essential business. The store chain’s owner, Austin-based Michael Kleinman, did not respond to an email request for comment Monday.
At Planet K’s West Avenue location, two cars were parked in front of the store Monday. Two bright yellow signs asked would-be customers to call their City Council members if they wanted the shop to reopen. Next to the City’s red stop-work order duct-taped to a window, store management posted a long statement that argued the business was exempted from the emergency closure order and accused the City and SAPD of harassment.
“Planet K provides its customers household necessities including supplements, such as CBD and Kratom, that many have come to rely on to manage their health,” the statement read. “In addition, we now carry other basic needs such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and basic over the counter pharmaceuticals, that can be difficult to find at other retailers, including online. These needs become especially acute in times of high stress – like those brought about by a global pandemic.”
Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of Government and Public Affairs, said San Antonio’s order is consistent with orders in other Texas cities.
“There is a process to be deemed an ‘Essential Business’ by the State of Texas,” Coyle said. “If Planet K receives such a designation from the State, we will treat them as an exempt business.”
The Texas Department of Emergency Management is handling requests for interpretation of the statewide order.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s order later came with a “clarification” of 17 industries that are essential, which includes transportation, health, and security. The only non-essential businesses Abbott identified by name are salons, gyms, massage establishments, tattoo and piercing studios, and dine-in restaurants.
“With this clarification, Planet K knows that we fall within the bounds of an Essential Business, and had re-opened our San Antonio stores,” the company’s statement read. “However, within hours, our San Antonio stores were ticketed and harassed into closing again based on some incorrect health department/legal department interpretations of the Governor’s order.”
SAPD, the Development Services Department, Center City Development and Operations, and Metropolitan Health District visited Planet K more than 20 times last week to issue warnings or tickets. Those departments have divided the 24-hour workload of proactively checking on businesses to make sure they are complying with closure orders. The City has received nearly 1,450 calls related to noncompliance with the emergency orders.
“… To ‘insure [sic] health’ SAPD arrested our female employee (who has children at home) and threatened to take her to jail before calmer heads prevailed,” the Planet K statement continued. “Planet K has been continually harassed by representatives of the San Antonio Police Department and Code Enforcement. This has not occurred in any other place in Texas that Planet K operates.”
SAPD responded appropriately, Coyle said.
“This is not harassment. The City has been out to this business multiple times in an attempt to get the owners to voluntarily comply with the emergency order,” Coyle said via email. “After repeated warnings, this business left the City no choice but to take enforcement action. The manager who was ultimately cited was initially going to be arrested, not for violating the ordinance, but for failing to identify herself so that officers could write her a citation. After she finally identified herself, she was cited and released.”
The door at the West Avenue was locked Monday, but an employee emerged from the building to provide a copy of the statement and say the Universal City location, 15 minutes away, was operating a curbside pickup service.
Universal City’s police department could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. According to Planet K, that city as well as San Marcos, Austin, and Bryan, are allowing the company to operate.
San Antonio may face a legal fight, as Kleinman is known for taking up legal battles. In February 2019, he settled his lawsuit against the City of Bryan relating to the size of the shop’s sign in front of its building.
Planet K isn’t the only business that wants to stay open during the pandemic. Shops that sell CBD products, made by extracting non-intoxicating cannabidiol from the cannabis plant and used by some to treat stress and seizures, also have argued they should remain open, according to various media reports.
A citation for Alamo Botanicals, a CDB shop off Stone Oak Parkway, was pending review last week, according to SAPD records.
The other four citations include a vape store on Austin Highway and three males who had a BB gun outside a San Antonio Housing Authority apartment complex. The latter group also was given citations for public intoxication.