County delays Covid-19 enforcement ordinance

Supervisors to consider public health violation fines Aug. 4

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People and businesses flouting the state’s public health order could face fines of up to $10,000 from San Benito County.

The county supervisors, however, delayed implementation of the ordinance July 21, and will instead consider a modified version on Aug. 4.

The supervisors voted 4-1 to postpone their decision, with Supervisor Peter Hernandez dissenting.

An increasing number of businesses and activities within the county have been disregarding the state’s health order in response to Covid-19, according to the proposed “Covid-19 Administrative Penalty Ordinance.” 

“These violations present a serious and immediate risk to public health and safety, contributing greatly to the likelihood of a crisis that will cause many preventable illnesses and deaths,” the ordinance reads. “These violations also jeopardize local social and economic wellbeing, increasing the potential for renewed curtailment of business operations, school closures and activity restrictions.”

The ordinance proposes fines of up to $500 for “non-commercial” violations, and up to $10,000 for commercial activities. Fine amounts would be determined by the severity of the violation and other factors.

Many county residents spoke during the meeting, whether in person or on the phone, during a one-hour public comment period. Most expressed outrage over the ordinance, while others lambasted the state’s facial covering requirement and other orders, with one resident even comparing Gov. Gavin Newsom to Adolf Hitler.

Resident Monicca Cross said the county needs to act logically and look at the numbers of Covid-19 in San Benito County. According to San Benito County Public Health Services, the county had five confirmed Covid-19 cases during the week of July 12-18, with 40 the week before. Two have died since the outbreak began in early March.

However, the county’s positivity rate hit a record at nearly 12 percent during the week of July 5-11, according to health officials.

“In San Benito County, we have been compliant with masking and social distancing, and still cases are increasing exponentially,” Cross said. “This type of surveillance that you are suggesting is dangerous and unnecessary. It is incomprehensible that we are destroying our small businesses based on these numbers.”

Hollister resident Melissa Gong, however, pointed to the “anti-mask movement” as a cause for the rise in cases.

“While having an ordinance that is going to restrict gatherings seems severe and intrusive, it’s what is necessary,” she said. “Yes, you can bring your parents groceries. Yes, you can have small gatherings, but you don’t need to have raging backyard parties with bounce houses which is what’s been going on.”

Supervisor Mark Medina said he needed to study the ordinance further and suggest revisions.

“At this time there’s too much grey area,” he said. “There’s too many unknowns. There’s too many doubts.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he was concerned that by not passing such an ordinance, the county would be in danger of losing funding under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“We aren’t looking to close down businesses,” he said. “Every ordinance has to have a little bit of enforcement capability.”

Hernandez, who voted against postponing the board’s decision, said he “strongly disagreed” with Botelho.

“Whether intentional or not, [Newsom’s] rules are doing more damage than good,” he said. “That’s what I’m hearing from the public.”

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