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Arroyo Grande approves fines that could enforce COVID-19 orders 

A recent discussion in Arroyo Grande about administrative citations and the city's inability to enforce various state and county orders, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic, turned into another battle over face coverings and whether they're helpful in stopping the spread of coronavirus.

click to enlarge CLICK IT OR TICKET At a meeting on July 14, Arroyo Grande City Council unanimously approved a series of urgency ordinances establishing an administrative citation process that could be used to fine those who refuse to comply with orders regarding COVID-19. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • CLICK IT OR TICKET At a meeting on July 14, Arroyo Grande City Council unanimously approved a series of urgency ordinances establishing an administrative citation process that could be used to fine those who refuse to comply with orders regarding COVID-19.

At a meeting on July 14, the Arroyo Grande City Council unanimously approved a series of urgency ordinances establishing an administrative citation process in the city for the first time.

Administrative citations are civil enforcement tools that many cities in California—including every other city in SLO County—use to enforce city, county, and state municipal codes. The citations, according to a city staff report, are often used as a last resort to fine individuals who refuse to comply with various orders, but unlike criminal citations, carry no possibility of jail time or a criminal record.

"Criminal citations are also not fun for pretty much anybody," Director of Community Development Whitney McDonald said at the meeting.

Arroyo Grande has been working to develop and implement such a process for about a year now, McDonald said at the meeting, but recent challenges in enforcing state and county orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic have made the issue a priority.

From a state order requiring everyone to wear face coverings in public spaces where physical distancing isn't possible, to county orders requiring bars and other businesses to close temporarily at certain times, McDonald said that without an administrative citation process in place, Arroyo Grande has been limited in what it can do to get residents and visitors to comply.

Although administrative citations would be used only as a last resort for those who refuse to comply, she said the threat of fines—set at $100 for the first code violation, $300 for second offense, $500 for all offenses after, and even higher for building code violations—would give Arroyo Grande an important tool in enforcing city, state, and county codes.

But in the same breath, City Council passed another urgency ordinance ensuring that all uncodified city, county, and state orders related to COVID-19 are applicable as "a matter of law" within city limits. That plus the threat of fines led to outrage among a number of Arroyo Grande and SLO County community members who feel that face masks shouldn't be required.

Several spoke during the July 14 meeting, saying that face masks are actually dangerous and do nothing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many others said the state's face mask order is unconstitutional, unenforceable, and that it's out of line for Arroyo Grande to threaten fines.

"Nothing can trump the Constitution of the United States," one caller said. "... I'm not wearing a mask, I'm never going to wear one."

It's not the government's place to tell people what is and isn't healthy and then force them to live that way, she said.

Several other community members called in to say just the opposite—that evidence shows masks are effective in hampering the spread of COVID-19, that maintaining public safety is the government's job, and that face covering requirements are just like basic traffic safety or seat belt laws that are used to protect everyone.

City Council members said that regardless, administrative citations will be a useful tool even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is not just a mask ordinance, and I think people are overlooking that," Councilmember Lan George said at the meeting. "... This is so much more than just whether or not you want to wear a mask." Δ

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