Should Supervisor Janet Nguyen have voted to reject recommended restaurant grades?

“The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected health department and grand jury recommendations that restaurant inspection results be made more consumer-friendly, instead opting to make minor changes to the signs already on display,” according to the O.C. Register.

This is ridiculous.  Consumers deserve to know if restaurants are filthy and infected with vermin.  Sometimes you cannot discern such conditions with the naked eye – as the front part of the restaurant may be clean, while the cooking and storage areas might be a complete disaster.

Now check out what Supervisor Janet Nguyen had to say in defense of her vote, “It could really be devastating to restaurant owners.” Nguyen, who voted against even making the minor changes approved by the board and warned that any health department fee increases could be passed on to consumers and cause restaurants to lay off employees. “I think in these difficult economic times, if the system isn’t broken, we should not go in and fix it.”

Now here’s the problem – Nguyen’s husband, Tom Bonikowski, owns a “Lee’s Sandwiches” franchise in Stanton.  Should Nguyen have voted on this measure given that huge conflict of interest?  No way!  She obviously should have recused herself.

I decided to check and see if Bonikowski’s restaurant has had a history of violations.  Click here to see the results of my search.  Sure enough, this restaurant has been cited numerous times.  In fact it received a “Major Violation” on July 10, 2008, for maintaining an “improper holding temperature” for pork.  In that same inspection the restaurant was cited for seven more “minor violations,” including “evidence of vermin activity.”

Why didn’t Supervisor Nguyen disclose any of this to the rest of the Supervisors and to the public?  To what extent did she lobby against the recommended letter grade proposal to the other Supervisors?  Remember that her backer and adviser Tony Lam also manages a Lees Sandwiches franchise – and all of them have public records of inspections, including violations, which may be reviewed by clicking here.

“The discussion comes less than a year after an Orange County Register investigation found more than 20,000 major food safety violations in 2007 – ranging from lack of hot water to vermin infestations — in some of Orange County’s 13,173 restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other food venues.  Many restaurants with large numbers of violations operated without the public knowing about the poor health inspection scores, the Register reported.”

This is a very serious issue.  I am not surprised that the Republicans on the Orange County Board of Supervisors would opt to do almost nothing with regard to the recommended letter grades for restaurants.  When I am in Los Angeles I stay away from any restaurant that has less than an “A” grade – and I appreciate knowing that the “B” and “C” restaurants have been downgraded.

This measure needs to be reconsidered by the Board of Supervisors – and I would urge them to conduct a public hearing.  And this time Nguyen should not be allowed to vote on the measure!

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.