KQED News: Benicia Breaks with Solano County on Masks
KQED News, by Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Devin Katayama, and Alan Montecillo, Aug 30, 2021
In early August, eight Bay Area counties reinstated mask mandates in indoor public spaces due to the spread of the Delta variant. Solano County was the only one that didn’t.
Last week, the city of Benicia broke with the county by approving — by a unanimous city council vote — its own indoor mask mandate.
Today, we speak with the city’s mayor about this decision, and what it says about differences within Solano County.
Guest: Steve Young, Mayor of Benicia
Ericka Cruz Guevarra: [00:00:00] I’m Erica Cruz Guevarra, and you’re listening to The Bay, local news to keep you rooted. Mask requirements are pretty common here in the Bay Area, except where I’m at in Solano County, but last week the city of Benicia decided to break away with the rest of the county by passing its own indoor mascot mandate.
Steve Young: [00:00:23] If people had a different attitude about this thing, it would be done. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. We wouldn’t have people continuing to die all across the country. And it’s making it so partisan and political is not in anybody’s interest today.
Resolution 21-88 Face Coverings A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF BENICIA REQUIRING THE USE OF FACE COVERINGS IN INDOOR AND ENCLOSED PUBLIC SPACES WHEREAS, California Government Code Section 8630 empowers the City Council to proclaim the existence or threatened existence of a Local Emergency when the City is affected or likely to be affected by a public calamity; and [continued…]
Your comments and support for reinstating an indoors mask mandate for Benicia is desperately needed as we protect ourselves and others from the surging and highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.
Our County health department is failing to protect public health and safety, so we have to take action locally. Thank goodness Mayor Young and Vice-Mayor Campbell have taken this initiative. The measure MUST pass tonight!
Here’s the agenda item, followed by instructions for attending the virtual meeting.
AGENDA ITEM 16.A – RESOLUTION REQUIRING THE WEARING OF FACE COVERINGS IN BENICIA (City Attorney)
At the August 17, 2021 City Council meeting, the City Council directed City staff to prepare a resolution requiring face coverings be worn in certain circumstances indoors given the rise of COVID-19 cases relating to the Delta variant. If adopted, the resolution would be effective immediately and require face coverings in certain locations as detailed in the resolution.
Discuss and consider adopting a resolution requiring the mandatory use of face coverings in certain circumstances. Staff has attached two draft resolutions for consideration. The first resolution (Attachment 1) is based on Resolution No. 20-78, adopted by the Council on June 16, 2020. The second resolution is based on the health orders issued by the seven neighboring Bay Area health officers (Attachment 2). A majority vote is required to adopt any resolution.
3. Two-Step Request – Mayor Young & Vice Mayor Campbell
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN BENICIA COUNCIL MEETING:
Members of the public may provide public comments to the City Clerk by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any comment submitted to the City Clerk should indicate to which item of the agenda the comment relates. Specific information follows:
– Comments received by 2:00 pm on the day of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council and posted on the City’s website.
– Comments received after 2:00 pm, but before the start time of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council, but will not be posted on the City’s website, and will not be read into the record.
– Comments received after the start time of the meeting, but prior to the close of the public comment period for an item will be read into the record, with a maximum allowance of 5 minutes per individual comment, subject to the Mayor’s discretion.
• If prompted for a password, enter 405755.
• Use participant option to “raise hand” during the public comment period for the item you wish to speak on. Please note, your electronic device must have microphone capability. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
OR: Dial in with phone:
Before the start of the item you wish to comment on, call any of the numbers below. If one is busy, try the next one.
1 669 900 9128
1 346 248 7799
1 253 215 8782
1 646 558 8656
1 301 715 8592
1 312 626 6799
• Enter the meeting ID number: 839 3585 1585 *please note this is an updated ID number*.
• Enter password: 405755
• When prompted for a Participant ID, press #.
• Press *9 on your phone to “raise your hand” when the Mayor calls for public comment during the item you wish to speak on. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
On January 7, City Council will discuss and consider recommendations for changes to Benicia’s three campaign ordinances – Chap. 1.36, Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices, Chap. 1.40, Disclosure of Contributions and Expenditures in Candidate and Ballot Measure Elections, and Chap. 1.42, Contribution and Voluntary Spending Limits. Any recommendations adopted by Council would be brought back before Council in a first reading of the ordinance(s) to be amended.
The recommendations to be considered are the culmination of a process that began almost a year ago when City Council directed its Open Government Commission (OGC) to consider updates and amendments to the three ordinances. Council acted in part due to concerns raised during campaigns in 2018 for two Benicia Council seats. Numerous comments and suggestions for changes were submitted to Benicia city officials following that election season, including almost 60 from local individuals (including Council members), businesses (like Valero), and organizations such as the League of Women Voters.
The ad hoc committee appointed by the OGC reviewed these comments and suggestions and considered other recommendations on possible changes which arose during its meetings. The committee also heard from an expert on campaign finance law, who shared early on his suggestions on what the committee “could and couldn’t do” based on current laws and Court opinions. In simplified terms, for example, I understood that the committee couldn’t propose limits on expenditures and it couldn’t control content of issue ads. We could consider limits on contributions, plus we could address disclosure requirements for contributions and information funded by PACs, including information appearing through social media platforms.
In the end, and within the legally defined parameters that exist, the committee identified 12 recommendations to the OGC to update provisions in the three ordinances. The committee also presented two additional recommendations concerning public funding for campaigns and election security measures. The OGC accepted most of the committee’s recommendations and voted to submit them to City Council for adoption. The public funding and election security recommendations were not forwarded by the OGC, upon advice of the City Attorney that the issues were outside the scope of the direction provided to the OGC, and that either would need to be proposed through separate direction from Council.
The Staff Report presented to Council for the January 7 discussion incorporates most of the recommendations that originated from the ad hoc committee. Of those, the City Attorney recommends not adopting some of proposed changes and offers no comment on others. The proposed changes not supported by the City Attorney are because either the issue is already state law or cannot be done due to state law or federal Constitutional concerns. Absent persuasive legal advice from another source, it is difficult for me to argue against the City Attorney where he recommends not to adopt a proposed change. It seems to make sense (except for one, as noted below, relating to disclosures by organizations which endorse local candidates).
The remaining proposed changes in the January 7 Staff Report which have no comment from the City Attorney came from the Benicia community, presumably surviving the City Attorney’s legal review for their viability as an ordinance provision, and therefore should be strongly supported and adopted by Council. In particular, the three push-poll related changes to Chap. 1.40 help address specific concerns raised about polls taken in Benicia during the 2018 Benicia elections. In my mind, adding this language in Benicia’s campaign ordinances is the big takeaway from this review process. The updates requiring candidates to disclose their top three donors, that the ordinances apply to recalls and initiatives, and adding the option for a second public forum earlier in the election season, were also strongly supported by public comments submitted and should be adopted by Council.
The two additional recommendations on public funding of campaigns and election security should have been forwarded to the Council as well for consideration. As recommended by the ad hoc committee, Council should direct a review of (a) whether Benicia should consider public funding of campaigns, (b) examples of other municipalities that have enacted publicly funded campaigns, and (c) the pros and cons of such an ordinance. Council should also adopt a resolution concerning election security for voting processes and tabulation and acknowledging the work performed by the Solano County Asst. Registrar of Voters in this regard.
Remaining concerns: Are Benicia’s campaign ordinances being updated regarding the use of social media platforms during campaigns? State laws enacted during the past two Legislative sessions may address this need.
Also, the City Attorney recommends not to adopt the proposed change to Chap. 1.40 requiring membership organizations which endorse a candidate to disclose if the endorsement was voted upon by all of its members and to publish the questions asked of candidates seeking endorsement. He says “it could run afoul of various constitutionally-protected interests.” Council should seek a second opinion on this matter as there may be alternative legal views on the viability of the proposed amendment.
The proposed amendments to the campaign ordinances presented in the January 7 Staff Report are very much community-based proposals. Each one comes from suggestions submitted by community members. In every sense of the word, these are proposals from the Benicia community and deserve Council support and adoption.