People may now be fined hundreds of dollars if they refuse to wear a face mask or violate other public health orders related to curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors adopted an urgency ordinance Aug. 4 establishing fines for violations.
Before the ordinance was passed, violators were subject to criminal enforcement, including misdemeanor prosecution or arrest, but now they face civil penalties or fees instead.
Treating such violations as a crime was "not a great tool," said Supervisor Dave Pine in board deliberations Tuesday, Aug. 4, before the ordinance was approved.
"I think this is a great idea," said Supervisor Carole Groom.
She said that she was concerned about monetary fines and urged the county to be proactive about distributing masks to those who need them. She planned to start a campaign with prizes on social media to showcase photos of people wearing masks, and asked people to tweet photos of themselves wearing masks to @carolesanmateo2.
Supervisor Warren Slocum said he was particularly concerned about ordinance violations in the commercial sector, rather than by individuals, after hearing about a particular business in North Fair Oaks that had live music and drinks where patrons were not wearing masks. "It's not so much that we're sending the mask police out looking for individuals," he said. "I think we have bigger fish to fry to tame the corona."
The civil fees rise if there are repeated violations, according to a county memo. For individuals and non-commercial entities, people would receive an infraction if a law enforcement officer sees the mask order being violated. They would be fined $100 at the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 for any additional violations within a year of the first violation. Infractions could be appealed in writing to a neutral dispute officer, who is designated by Mike Callagy, the county manager and current director of emergency services .
Commercial entities would be cited if an officer sees a violation or receives a credible report of one. They would be fined between $250 and $3,000 per violation depending on the gravity of the health risk, prior warnings, intent to profit from the violation, and whether there are good faith efforts to comply. Citations could be appealed in a written or oral hearing before a neutral dispute officer, and further appealed to a superior court judge.
Several other California counties, such as Contra Costa, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Yolo counties have also imposed fines for not following the mask mandate and other public health orders, according to the county memo. Santa Cruz County also passed a similar ordinance Aug. 4.