Should Benicia and Solano impose fines on COVID violators like Napa and Marin?

Coronavirus: Marin County votes to impose fines on violators of public health orders

Individuals can be fined up to $500 and businesses up to $10,000 — but the goal is to be educational, not punitive
A man leaves a restaurant with a take-out order in between outdoor eating tables at City Plaza on Fourth Street in San Rafael, Calif. on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Mercury News, by Evan Webeck, July 22, 2020

Another North Bay county has the newfangled authority to fine anyone not wearing a mask or complying with social distancing protocols.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors approved a temporary measure to make violations of public health orders punishable by administrative fines, following in the footsteps of officials in Napa County, who put a similar measure in place last week.

The move authorizes city and county employees, as well as police officers, to cite businesses and individuals not complying with the orders, though the priority is first to intervene and educate. Depending on the severity and frequency of the violations, individuals can face fines between $25 and $500, while businesses can be fined between $250 and $10,000.

The policy suggests a “grace period” of up to 72 hours before an enforcement officer would issue a fine, but it doesn’t prevent a citation from being issued on the spot. It also does not eliminate the misdemeanor penalty that such violations were originally categorized as, but supervisors said that enforcement mechanism had rarely been used.

Officials’ goal is to move public health citations out of the lengthy legal system and allow to enforce the orders without levying a misdemeanor the heftier financial penalty that accompanies it.

“It was a pretty steep fine that police officers were reluctant to give,” County Administrator Matthew Hymel said during the virtual board meeting. “A lower-level fine, they’re more comfortable giving that out.”

In a staff report sent to the board recommending the measure, officials also emphasized Gov. Gavin Newsom’s threat to withhold federal stimulus funds — up to $26.5 million from Marin County — from counties that don’t follow the state guidelines.

The county also recently launched a new email address that residents can send complaints about businesses violating the public health orders. Supervisors said they had received about 60 responses since the tool launched last week.

The public can submit complaints to