On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to instruct the Director of Public Health to create a plan for how her department will fine businesses that ignore the county’s coronavirus protocols.
Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer indicated last Monday that businesses are a large contributor to the continued growth of COVID-19. Many business are not requiring masks or physical distancing, she said.
Ferrer reported that during inspections two weekends ago, 49 percent of bars and 33 percent of restaurants were found to be violating physical distancing requirements, while 54 percent of bars and 44 percent of restaurants were failing to meet face mask/shield mandates for employees.
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Last Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered restaurants to close for dine-in service — though they will still be allowed to offer food for pickup or delivery.
The governor’s guideline to cease indoor operations for three weeks also included movie theaters, restaurants, indoor family entertainment businesses, card rooms and zoos. Over the weekend, the governor ordered bars and nightclubs closed.
During debate, which included anecdotal evidence from board members, Board Chair Katheryn Barger expressed concern for how such enforcement may impact businesses. Barger indicated that she would support the motion, but she suggested an alternative.
“I think we need to look at pulling permits,” said Barger. “Their biggest fear is having their public health permit pulled.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis countered, “We can’t allow non-compliant businesses to threaten the lives of residents,” citing several manufacturers in her district that had seen outbreaks amonf employees because of lax compliance.
After some debate, the motion carried by a vote of 5-0 from the board.
Below is the text of the motion.
Recommendation as submitted by Supervisors Kuehl and Hahn: Instruct the Director of Public Health, in coordination with County Counsel, to report back to the Board in 14 days with a plan for how they will incorporate fines into their Environmental Health
Inspector enforcement work to ensure greater levels of compliance, with the plan to:
Consider a variable fine amount, based on the maximum occupancy of the facility, the level of non-compliance, and any other appropriate factors to ensure that the fine amount correlates to the public health risk the business’ non-compliance poses;
Impose a fine upon the first finding of non-compliance by an Environmental Health Inspector; Impose fines for non-compliance on all businesses over which the Department of Public Health (DPH) has authority to impose such fines; and Establish a protocol such that after a business is found out of compliance and is fined, its permit may be revoked as soon as the second visit to the business; and
Instruct the Director of Public Health, in coordination with County Counsel, and all other relevant Departments, to explore and report back to the Board within 30 days whether and how other Departments might assist DPH with enforcement through an authorization of authority that would allow other County employees to issue fines for non-compliance with public health officer orders and directives in connection with carrying out their work.
Before the vote, Barger argued that “adding a fine will not change the decision making of some of these restaurants that are on the verge of going under. Some of them would rather pay a fine than follow the guidelines.”
Last Thursday, Santa Monica decided to issue citations for anyone not wearing a face covering in public amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the area. In a revised order, the city set fines at $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second violation and $500 for a third. For businesses, the fines start at $500, increasing to $750 for a second violation and $1,000 for a third. The city joins West Hollywood and Beverly Hills in a group of local cities issuing citations for violations of their mask orders.
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