|A restaurant owner was threatened with a lawsuit for not posting enough of these warning signs. (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times / December 12, 2005)|
Brett Schoenhals thought he was following the law by putting one of California's all-too-familiar warnings in the bar of his Coffee Table restaurant in Eagle Rock.
Soon after he posted the sign, "This facility contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm," he got a letter from a lawyer saying he was representing an irate patron who wanted to see more warnings.
Invoking the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, or Proposition 65, the lawyer threatened a lawsuit. The restaurant owner was told he faced fines of $2,500 a day for violations.
Infuriated, the Coffee Table owner decided to fight. "I plastered my whole place with signs everywhere," he said.
Afterward, he confronted the lawyer, who dropped his complaint. But Schoenhals did not stop there. Convinced he and other business owners were too often being extorted, he took his frustrations to Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). The lawmaker introduced a bill to help businesses avoid fines for minor violations, if they promptly fix problems, and it is set to get its first legislative committee vote Tuesday.
"The voters passed Proposition 65 to be protected from chemicals that could hurt them," Gatto said. "They did not intend to create a situation where shakedowns of California's small business owners would cause them to want to close their doors."
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Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada-Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood. www.asm.ca.gov/gatto