The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance establishing administrative fines for violating public health orders related to the novel coronavirus, including not wearing face coverings, social distancing and improper gatherings.
This new ordinance comes after, adoption of similar ordinances in the past two weeks in Marin and Napa counties. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a similar ordinance at its Aug. 6 meeting, and the city of Berkeley may pass an ordinance this week.
Contra Costa County supervisors said Tuesday that voluntary compliance with the COVID-19-related county health order was not enough.
Supervisors rejected public criticism Tuesday that fines and requirements that people wear face masks are unconstitutional, and said the county's efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 are in the name of protecting the public.
"We need to have more compliance with the health order, or else we'll have more freedoms taken away," Supervisor Candace Andersen said.
County officials say the ability to issue infraction tickets in response to complaints will likely prove more responsive in addressing most violations than the former complaint procedure, which would have led to misdemeanor prosecution.
For health order violations involving non-commercial activities, the fine is $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second and $500 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation.
For violations involving commercial activity, the amount is $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second and $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation. If a violation continues for more than one day, each day is considered a separate violation.
The ordinance also allows for anyone given a ticket to appeal that infraction, which would require filing a written appeal within 10 days after the ticket is given. Though specifics haven't yet been laid out, recommendations are that each city would issue citations, and there will probably be one hearing officer countywide who would consider individual cases.
Of 17 people who addressed the supervisors Tuesday on the fine schedule, 11 opposed it. Several critics maintained such fines (and many COVID-19 health order edicts) are unconstitutional and/or erode personal and religious liberties. A couple of them said there aren't enough COVID-19 cases to warrant such drastic steps.
Supervisors were having none of that Tuesday.
"I'm shocked at the lack of scientific literacy and knowledge that people have," said Supervisor John Gioia, who said President Donald Trump's anti-science stance has set a bad example.
It wasn't that long ago, Gioia said, that people who supported smokers' rights said smoking should be allowed anywhere, but public sentiment on that have changed.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said, "You're ignorant about the Constitution if you're saying we can't take this action."
And simply hoping for volunteer compliance, and stressing education, Mitchoff said, is coming up short.
"We've been doing education for four months, and all we've gotten is increased cases," she said.
Supervisor Diane Burgis said the matter is urgent.
"We don't even know what we don't know about this disease," she said.