Contra Costa County on Tuesday approved fines for individuals and businesses that violate coronavirus health orders, including not wearing a mask.
The county’s board of supervisors passed an urgency ordinance establishing fines for individuals starting at $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation.
Fines for businesses will start at $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation.
“Some people are just defiant,” said Supervisor Diane Burgis. “We’re trying to get COVID under control and we need people to put on their masks. … We’re not doing it to make money, to try to control people. We’re trying to get control over this disease and get our economy back so we need people to cooperate, put on their mask.”
Contra Costa is the third Bay Area county, and the largest, to pass administrative fines for not following health measures. Napa and Marin counties this month enacted similar fines of up to $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, for businesses.
Officers designated by the director of Health Services, the director of Conservation and Development, and the Sheriff’s Office will enforce the ordinance. The county has received about 200 complaints from residents reporting businesses and individuals that allegedly broke health order rules.
Individuals and businesses that are fined will have the option to appeal the fine within 10 days.
Officials have said they are focusing more on businesses than individuals — such as if businesses are open when health orders require that they shut down, or if business owners are not enforcing mask-wearing among their workers or customers.
Several members of the public called into the virtual meeting to oppose the ordinance, saying it would curtail their individual liberties and that mask-wearing should be voluntary. Supervisors said voluntary compliance and education have not worked to keep infection rates down. Ample research shows that widespread mask-wearing significantly reduces transmission.
Sonoma County and the city of Berkeley are also considering fines for individuals and businesses that do not comply with COVID-19 safety measures.
Agents with the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control conducted compliance sweeps throughout Northern California earlier this month and found several eateries, including in Solano County, in violation of coronavirus guidelines.
John Carr, an ABC spokesman, said agents issued misdemeanor citations for violating state emergency health orders. A district attorney, he said, will determine whether to prosecute.
Meanwhile, ABC has not taken any action against licenses where the violations occurred, Carr said, as the violations remain under review. Should disciplinary action be pursued, business owners may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Penalties can range from a fine to a suspension to a revocation.
Businesses cited between July 3-5 include:
Muay Thai Cuisine, Vacaville, for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
Kazan Japanese Cuisine, Vacaville, for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
El Patron Mexican Food, Vacaville, for employees not wearing masks.
Back Door Bistro, Vacaville, for employees not wearing masks.
Koreana BBQ, Fairfield, for indoor consumption.
Cullens Tannery Pub, Benicia , for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
Businesses cited between July 6-16 include:
Gentlemen Jims, Vallejo, for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
The Loft, Benicia , for employees not social distancing.
Vallejo Times Herald, by Richard Freedman, July 24, 2020
Solano County will not take Napa and Marin county leads and levy fines against those who refuse to wear face coverings during COVID-19.
Erin Hannigan, Solano County Board of Supervisors, District 1, said no similar policy is in discussion.
“We are not contemplating one at this time,” Hannigan said Friday, adding that “Cities are on the front lines of enforcement of the shelter-in-home orders.”
Napa and Marin counties approved fines up to $500 for violators ignoring state and local health orders after California surpassed New York on Wednesday with the highest COVID-19 case count. On Thursday, the state reported a record seven-day average for deaths.
Marin County can fine anti-maskers $25 to $500 and businesses can be fined between $250 and $10,000 for compliance failure.
Napa County passed its emergency ordinance July 14. People who hold gatherings or walk outside without a face covering risk fines mirroring Marin’s. Businesses could pay up to $5,000 for failing to enforce mask and social distancing rules.
It will not rely on sheriff’s deputies or city police officers. Instead, the county will use staffers in its code enforcement office. The ordinance leaves the level of that enforcement to a city’s discretion.
“I’m interested in seeing if the policies are effective,” Hannigan said.
In Vallejo, economic development director Annette Taylor communicates with any business that has been reported as violating “must-wear-mask” edict and will do spot checks, said Mayor Bob Sampayan.
A second complaint against the business garners a letter from the city attorney’s office.
So far, Sampayan said, “we haven’t needed to take it to the point of issuing a citation.”
Hannigan said enforcement would be difficult with an already-stretched thin police departments “and a very stretched Solano County Public Health office. It would be easier to enforce face coverings in businesses because the businesses are licensed through city’s and they can self regulate customers in their business. Individual face covering enforcement is harder.”
Solano County is following the COVID-19 guidelines from the California Dept. of Public Health which mandates wearing face coverings.
“We have to be reasonable and use common sense,” Sampayan said. “There are times you can’t wear a mask. Say you’re sitting outdoors at a restaurant for dinner. Are you going to be wearing a mask between bites and sips of a drink? That doesn’t make sense. But if you’re standing in a lobby of that restaurant, you should be wearing a mask and do the social distancing.”
Sampayan acknowledged that an elected official can influence adherence to public policy.
“I was chatting with a person on the waterfront the other day with several people around,” Sampayan said. “I had my mask on and one of them looked at me and said, ‘Sorry,’ and put their mask on.”
“For the most part, the majority of the public respects the need and the reasoning behind having to wear a mask,” Sampayan said. “I’m thankful for that. As (Dr. Anthony) Fauci said, “If we were to wear masks we can stop the spread within several months. This is not going to away on its own.”
Sampayan has been confronted by several who believe it’s their right as an American to not wear a face covering in public.
“I’m not going to debate with people. If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t wear a mask,” Sampayan said. “However, think about the people around you. How many have we seen nationwide adamant that it’s their right to not wear a mask … and the next thing you know, they’ve come down with COVID-19 and they die.”
“We have had more residents speak at our Board meetings who are against wearing face masks,” Hanigan said. “I’m all for making sure everyone has a face covering and leading by example.”
Several sidewalk diners in front of Good Day Cafe in downtown Vallejo offered feedback Friday afternoon on the mask debate. To fine or not to fine?
“I think it depends on the situation,” said Tanya Hill of American Canyon. “I’m sitting here ready to eat, drinking a beverage. Clearly, I can’t wear a mask. Again, it depends on the situation. To just walk up to someone, ‘I’m going to ticket you,’ I don’t think that’s the best use of police.”
Requiring a merchant’s employees to wear masks “I think is a good way to go,” added Hill. “I think as a community we should all be invested to make sure everybody stays safe. One of the things I remember learning in high school civics: My rights end where your rights begin. You have as much right to be free from infection as I do. If I choose not to wear a mask, that hinders your rights. ”
Another diner, “Joe,” said a fine policy for not wearing masks “is good if you can’t social distance.”
Tyler Mitchell, however, disagreed.
“I think it should be left open to the individuals. I think that if you feel like you need masks for your own personal health you should wear one,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think it should be imposed on anyone else.”
Raymond Prather, owner of The Victory Stores downtown, believes that if there is an ordinance in place for individuals, “people should at least get a warning first.”
However, he added, “I don’t think people should be fined. I think people should just have the sense to wear them.”