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University Heights gym defies cease and desist, closure orders from San Diego County

Gym goers line up outside Boulevard Fitness on August 7. The gym remains open even after receiving a closure order.
Gym goers line up outside Boulevard Fitness on August 7. The gym received a cease and desist letter from San Diego County on July 21, and a closure order on August 6. It remains open.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Following multiple visits from police and county officials, the gym continues to operate indoors

Boulevard Fitness, the University Heights gym now notorious for remaining open amid closure orders, has entered uncharted waters Monday. After receiving multiple visits from San Diego County officials and local police officers — and receiving official documents ordering its closure — the gym has continued business indoors.

This is the first time a San Diego business has ignored follow-up actions by county officials. On July 21, Boulevard Fitness received a cease and desist order, but chose to remain open. Days later on Aug. 6, county officials upped their offense with a new order delivered directly to owner Shawn Gilbert, ordering the gym’s immediate closure of indoor operations. Gilbert ignored it.

On Monday afternoon, a line stretched in front of the gym as patrons waited their turn to work out. Although the gym is still continuing business indoors, it’s chosen to operate at 50 percent capacity. Gilbert did not respond to the Union-Tribune’s request for comment but told reporters last month that he refused to close down.

“If I closed again, there’s a possibility I’d have to close these doors forever and I’m not going to let that happen,” Gilbert said at the time. “I’ve worked nonstop, taking virtually no sick days, to build something up from nothing. I won’t let it get destroyed.”

During a county visit to the gym on Aug. 5, officials determined it was time to take further action.

“During the inspection, it was noted that the gym was still operating indoors, and Shawn Gilbert acknowledged that there was no plan to operate outdoors,” the closure order reads. “Despite repeated efforts to educate and enforce State and local law at this property, Boulevard Fitness is currently in non-compliance and the failure to safely operate is an imminent health and safety risk.”

San Diego County says the latest closure order would be enforced by San Diego Police Department, but Boulevard has not received any citations yet.

The SDPD has issued a total of 160 citations since March, but most went out early in the pandemic during the month of April. Spokesman Shawn Takeuchi said citations have slowed in recent months, and the department is looking to the county for further assistance in enforcement.

“After speaking with Chief (David) Nisleit and at the direction of Mayor (Kevin) Faulconer, we are working together with county officials to create a new education and enforcement process to help ensure there is compliance with the public health orders in place to protect against the spread of this deadly virus,” Takeuchi wrote in a statement. “The San Diego Police Department continues to reserve the right to issue citations for anyone not complying with the public health orders. We urge the public to continue working with us during these difficult times to ensure the safety of all San Diegans continues to be the number one priority.”

This is not the first time a San Diego business has received cease and desist letters and closure orders from San Diego County. Two Pacific Beach businesses have already been through the ordeal. El Prez, a popular restaurant and bar by the beach, and The Gym, both received letters. But they immediately closed and followed the county’s orders so they could reopen in compliance.

A COVID-19 outbreak was traced back to The Gym in July.

San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman said they are aware of Boulevard Fitness’ move to remain open, and “further actions are pending.” Takeuchi said it’s likely the county will take the issue up with the court. Depending on what the court decides, enforcement would fall to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

In Ramona, a precedent has been set. Last week, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan charged Peter San Nicolas, owner of Ramona Fitness Center, with five misdemeanors for operating during the state’s shutdown orders. These were the first criminal charges filed against a business owner for violating public health orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Updates:

6:49 PM, Aug. 10, 2020: A police spokesman’s remarks, published in an earlier version of this story, misrepresented the department’s position on citations. The story has been updated with a statement from the SDPD.


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