Employees at Margot's Ice Cream Parlor in San Juan Bautista are required to wear face coverings during their shifts. (Juan Reyes)

San Juan Bautista became the first city in San Benito County that can issue citations to people for not following the state’s Covid-19 face covering guidance.

The city council on Aug. 18 unanimously voted to adopt a new executive order for anyone who violates the guidance. They can be subject to a citation starting at $100 for the first offense, with subsequent fines of $500 and $1,000 based on repeated violations.

Don Reynolds, director of Emergency Services of the City of San Juan Bautista, issued the executive order that will allow law enforcement to issue citations to those not following the state’s guidance for the use of face coverings.

Reynolds, who is also the city manager, wrote in a staff report dated Aug. 18 that he recommended that the city council adopt a resolution and confirm executive order 01-2020, which allows the use of face coverings to be enforceable by administrative citation during a state of emergency.

“The city has struggled without the correct tools to enforce safety measures during this state of emergency,” Reynolds said.

The California Department of Public Health guidelines and exemptions are enforceable within the City of San Juan Bautista. Reynolds is following what the City of Salinas did last month after City Manager Ray Corpuz adopted a similar executive order. 

One of the items listed in the executive order stated that “this executive order shall be liberally construed to provide the best possible protection for the citizens of the city.” 

In June, the CDPH released a guidance for face coverings that stated “the use of face coverings by everyone can limit the release of infected droplets when talking, coughing or sneezing, as well as reinforce physical distancing.”

On July 14, Reynolds issued the executive order to make the state’s guidance for wearing face coverings enforceable as a local law by administrative penalty, establishing fines applicable only to this action and only during the state of emergency. 

Under California law, the state public health officer’s orders are enforceable by local police agencies. People who fail to comply may be charged with a misdemeanor. 

“The intent of this Emergency Order is to provide a tool, in addition to education, to compel compliance with the Guidance by authorizing enforcement of the Guidance through the issuance of administrative citations pursuant to Article 5 of Chapter 1 of the Salinas Municipal Code.”

San Benito County residents are still required to wear a face covering in most public settings, as the state’s guidelines continue to apply to the local unincorporated area and the City of Hollister. 

The board of supervisors on Aug. 18 briefly revisited adopting an ordinance that would have set penalties for not wearing a mask in the unincorporated area. But the board failed to win enough support to agendize the item again.

The Hollister City Council has a draft in the works for an administrative citation ordinance that will be presented during their meeting scheduled for Sept. 8.

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