“We are in a Surge.” Supervisors Approve Fines for Health Order Violations

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Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors pushed ahead with an urgent public health ordinance on Thursday, voting unanimously to approve fines for violators of COVID-19 public health orders, including those who fail to follow facial covering and social distancing rules.

The ordinance will immediately make violators subject to a possible citation and fine of $100.  Businesses could be fined from $500 to $10 thousand depending on the severity of the violation. A phone hotline will also be setup to allow citizens to report violations. County staff said approximately $300 dollars in federal CARES funds would be set aside to pay for code enforcement staff and public outreach.

In approving the new ordinance, supervisors made it clear their goal would be education and compliance and not issuing citations.  Still, they were in agreement that there needed to be teeth to back up the ordinance in the form of financial penalties.  Supervisors also agreed to take another look at the ordinance, and its effectiveness, in three months time.

The cities of Santa Rosa and Windsor are among those currently considering their own public health ordinances.

Dozens of call in comments opposed any involvement of law enforcement officers in enforcing the new county code, and many others said they worried that any enforcement would be focused inordinately on the Latinx community.  Other callers said the county’s focus and dollars should be on testing and not on code enforcement, and that fines are an unnecessary burden on the community during the current pandemic.

Already numerous other Bay Area cities and counties have instituted similar public health ordinances, with fines ranging up to $500 for individuals, and $10 thousand dollars for businesses.

For their part, county supervisors weighed in on the need for the ordinance, and its impacts on the community.

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