San Benito County residents will not be fined for failing to wear face coverings in public after the board of supervisors failed to agree on a plan that would work for local residents and beyond.
The board on Aug. 18 came to a 2-2 vote to discuss a new face covering ordinance that would give people citations if they were caught not wearing one as long as Covid-19 guidelines are in place. The split vote means the item will no longer be on the agenda, according to Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz.
De La Cruz, who’s in favor of an ordinance that would allow citations, said that he was disappointed that they couldn’t come to an agreement. During the meeting he asked “in the interest of compromising with the other supervisors,” if they should put the face covering ordinance on the agenda for their next meeting Sept. 8.
De La Cruz and Supervisor Anthony Botelho were in favor, while both Peter Hernandez and Mark Medina said they were opposed.
Prior to making his choice, Medina asked De La Cruz why he removed the item from the agenda in last month’s meeting.
De La Cruz said he wanted to buy some time to meet with Hollister and San Juan Bautista City officials to discuss the new ordinance.
“Obviously, there’s no consensus on it, so it falls back on us if we want to take the leadership on it or not,” he said.
Medina brought up the idea of meeting with both cities to discuss a universal mask ordinance but nothing was close to being done.
Medina said they met with the Hollister City Council on Aug.17 where the city’s elected officials were similarly divided in their support of a mask citation ordinance.
“We can’t say there’s a consensus,” Medina said. “The whole idea here was to go together and figure out how you’re going to bridge or how you’re going to bring an ordinance to place. I don’t see anything, I’m sorry.”
Hernandez said, in a nutshell, that the city of Hollister doesn’t know what direction to go in and they want the county to take the lead.
“By default I feel like it’s dead in the water,” he said. “I don’t know how many times we’ve gone over this, it’s been beat up.”
Botelho said a committee was formed so that they can communicate information between the cities and the county as far as issues and problems, including how to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said they’ve been planning for more than two months on how to send a message that wearing a mask is as essential as washing hands, especially if people want to begin reopening businesses.
“That’s been our focus and a focus that Supervisor Hernandez and I both share,” Botelho said. “And our goal was how do we keep our businesses operating.”
Botelho said he doesn’t agree with what’s coming out of Sacramento but “at the end of the day the governor’s orders are lawful and we’re obligated as a subdivision of the state of California to follow them.”
Hernandez said during Tuesday’s meeting that having the mask ordinance has affected the health industry and not just in the medical field. He said places such as gymnasiums, salons and churches care about public health.
“They’re very much in tune of supporting and helping the autonomy of the individual to be physically healthy, to be spiritually healthy and to be mentaly healthy,” he said. “How is that success? That we’re actually opposing an industry, shutting them down.”
Hernandez said a mask ordinance would highlight the failed policy. He mentioned that several counties are addressing public health and making all businesses essential.
“It’s to address the mental health issues, the suicide prevention and all these kind of things that really matter if we want to try and create a holistic approach,” he said.
Hernandez said they need to come up with a set of their own solutions and invest in the “Roadmap to Recovery” in order to work together.
San Benito County resident Ryan Jones phoned in to the Aug. 18 meeting to tell the board that it was “befuddling that business owners nowadays are either getting fined or arrested for opening their businesses.” He asked what the reason is to punish someone for trying to provide for their family, adding that this isn’t about public health safety but instead it comes down to money.
“In a time where we are challenging ourselves to have more equality, we are virtually doing the opposite by discriminating what businesses are essential. Who can be open and who cannot,” Jones said.
Another caller phoned in asking, if the masks work then why aren’t people able to gather around. She demanded proof of how the masks are working to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“Nothing is leading to prove that the masks help,” she said.
The caller talked about a time when someone forgot their mask and she pulled out a dirty one from her purse that she wore multiple times. She claims that she gave it to a man to wear because he wanted to wear a mask.
“I urge and please beg you guys to vote this down and stop being pushed by our politicians in the state and wanting to sit back and collect those funds,” she said.