'It doesn't make sense': Planet Party manager speaks out after two city-issued citations

2022-05-20 21:19:38 By : Ms. Amy Li

Robert Armenta, the general manager of Planet Party, defended his business's COVID-19 policies and questioned the city's regulations. He labeled the citations "very disheartening."

Planet Party, a San Antonio amusement venue that offers arcade games and kiddie rides, expanded to a third location in January.

The family-owned business thrived for three months. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Robert Armenta shut down all three branches. Under pressure from landlords, the business started taking reservations at one location when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began the process of reopening the state.

But now the doors are locked once more.

City officials conducting an inspection Aug. 1 issued two citations, one for people not wearing masks and another for hosting an event with more than 10 people. Each citation carried a $1,000 fine.

READ MORE: Citations: Planet Party cited for allowing gathering with more than 10 people

Armenta, the general manager of Planet Party, defended his business's COVID-19 policies and questioned the city's regulations. He labeled the citations "very disheartening."

"You're not a huge corporation, you're not trying to make millions or anything like that," Armenta said. "You're just trying to offer a service, make some money, feed your family, and that’s it."

When officials arrived at Planet Party, located off Loop 410, they found several adults walking around or playing games without masks on, according to an enforcement report. There were over 40 guests at the venue, the report says, and some did not even have their masks with them.

Armenta said the surveillance footage shows otherwise. He counted 23 guests at a private party, following social distancing guidelines inside the 5,400 square-foot facility, and said everyone was wearing masks except for two customers who pulled their masks down to speak.

Even 23 guests — if they're part of a single party — are too many under the state's regulations, according to Michael Shannon, director of the city's Development Services Department.

Shannon noted that amusement venues where people are playing games and other activities do not fall under the same rules as restaurants.

It’s different than your typical Chili’s restaurant or something like that where it’s really just go and eat," Shannon said.

Planet Party could have more than 10 guests inside the facility — provided they follow all the other COVID-19 guidelines — but not more than 10 people in a single group, he said.

Officials charged with enforcing the city's orders are "past the warning phase" when it comes to businesses, Shannon said, noting that updated guidance from the state has been available for weeks.

"[The virus is] a community problem that every business owner, every individual needs to take seriously to help stop the spread," Shannon said.

Planet Party has been taking the virus seriously, Armenta said. The venue has reduced capacity, spaced out tables and chairs, and purchased a backpack fogger that sprays a disinfecting mist.

"I work here every day," he said. "I don't wear a mask when I'm here because I feel that comfortable to what it is we're doing."

Armenta, who performs maintenance and does not work around others, speculated that a competitor or disgruntled customer might have called city inspectors. Shannon said officials were conducting proactive inspections on random businesses.

Planet Party plans to appeal the citations.

"I see all these other businesses operating, but we're being told that we're a threat to the health of the city?" Armenta said.

Mark Dunphy is a breaking news reporter and general assignment writer. Follow him @m_b_dunphy.