The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) may have relaxed some of its rules around the sale of alcohol to go in order to help struggling restaurants survive during the pandemic. But that doesn't mean they've gotten relaxed about enforcement of underage drinking laws.

No one really expected the notoriously illiberal ABC to suddenly turn into nice guys just because we're dealing with a global pandemic and economic recession. But with virtually no bars open across the state, agents apparently needed something to do, so they're now busting delivery drivers and restaurants that knowingly or unknowingly fill orders for alcohol made by teens.

As KGO reports this week, the ABC has been conducting a sting and has cited issued 214 citations to delivery drivers so far this year — including one to San Rafael's Shiro Kuma Sushi and a Grubhub delivery driver who delivered one of its orders containing alcohol to an undercover agent without checking for ID.

Shiro Kuma Sushi now faces one year of probation on its liquor license, and the driver could be fined between $250 and $1000.

"We received a complaint that delivery services were not checking identifications and as a result alcohol deliveries were going to places where there were minors," says ABC spokesperson John Carr, speaking to KGO. "We found that the compliance rate was very low and the violation rate was very high."

But is this really important right now? Making sure that no 16-year-olds order sake with their sushi and get away with it?

Many would argue no, and for the owners of Shiro Kuma Sushi, it's just one more kick in the teeth during what's already been a difficult year for the business.

"For ABC to conduct a sting like that not just targeting myself but targeting other restaurants especially during the pandemic is wrong," says manager Sebastian Shigeyoshi, whose father owns the restaurant.

And while it falls on the delivery companies to train their drivers to check for IDs at the door when delivering alcohol, the companies themselves are not licensed to sell alcohol, so it's the restaurants who get punished.

The ABC says that it prefers "education over enforcement," and that it posted industry advisories on its website between April and June before beginning these sting operations.

Grubhub issued a statement to KGO saying, "When we learn of a possible violation of this policy by a driver we fully investigate the delivery and terminate contracts for drivers that do not comply with our policies."

Photo: Robert Anasch