On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors opted against raising fines on businesses who do not follow the Stay-At-Home orders.
The discussion comes after last week, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff made the request after several business are blatantly ignoring the order and news broke that the county had fined several gyms. Mitchoff suggested the fines be increased to as much as $20k.
The comments came after she was critical of a gym owner of several franchises who chooses to operate while other gym owners follow the rules. She called it unfair to those who were shutdown and following the State and local order.
Prior to public comments heard Tuesday, both Supervisors Candace Andersen and Diane Burgis spoke out against raising the fines.
Andersen says she was not in favor of increasing penalties and would rather find ways to support business while Burgis highlighted how small businesses really suffering from this pandemic and some are just trying to survive while attempting to keep their business. She did, however, scold those who were openly defying the order and pushing the limits.
“I am not going to support higher fines. But I am going to support as much education as possible while encouraging the cities to participate,” stated Burgis who believed fines would not work and would only put more of a burden on local business.
After hearing from Public Comments–none of the commenters were in favor of increased fines–Supervisor John Gioia stated this was not easy, but they were trying to save lives which is why the State Order went into effect earlier than the 15% ICU Bed Capacity.
“Pain early to avoid pain longer. I know that is hard to say to businesses who are hearing this,” stated Gioia saying the longer this pandemic goes on, the more hurt it is on businesses.
Gioia stated he was open on raising the maximum fine on commercial activities, given how few businesses have been in the category, but open to reassess next year as it doesn’t seem like raising that maximum fine would get them any greater compliance.
“There has been a failure at city level to both educate and enforce. Many are looking at the county to enforce this, but cities also have a responsibility,” stated Gioia.
Supervisor Federal Glover said none of the comments have laid on deaf ears and he had complete compassion for everyone but they needed to work on this in a collaborative way. He highlighted that they are also frustrated and that maybe the answer isn’t about raising the fines, but what is it going to take to say you must be wearing your mask, social distance, get to a place where we are saving lives.
“I don’t want to see us raise fines, but do want to see a policy for those who do not want to obey the rules where they fall into something. I am looking or the round-table of our enforcement officers, DA’s office, sheriffs Office, health services, environmental health, to come together… what is going to be the stick that holds accountability,” stated Glover.
He continued by asking if someone is not going to comply, when do we pull the permit? He called for people to stop doing business as usual, its going to take everyone to make sacrifices to get back to normal,
“Life is going to be different, but we have to do it together. There are going to have to be sacrifices,” stated Glover. “This is not unique to any county, the nation, certainly not here in the State of California. I would say I am not looking to raise any fees but I do want to have a discussion on how we get to compliance.”
Burgis stated although they may not always agree, she said staff and her fellow board has everyone’s best interest in mind and are doing the best they can.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, who made the proposal, said she was not going to support raising fines. She also stated she brought it up because a number of businesses in her area were complaining they were not being treated fairly.
“I am not going to support raising fines not because of the public comments I heard today, but because it doesn’t work folks. The fines we have now are not working. Education isn’t working. The public doesn’t trust us. And I am tired. As my colleagues have mentioned, we are not doing this for the fun of it. I’ve received death threats, I have just received a comment and I am going to read it because I want it in the public record. This is from Ricky Gunz, sort of interesting.”
Here is the comment that Mitchoff read into record (Note – foul language)
“Fuck You Bitch. Sleep lightly. There are some bad people out there. Karma is a motherfucker. Keep trying to fine business and see what happens.”
Mitchoff then apologized for having to use that kind of language but that is the language that the Board of Supervisors are getting.
“We are really tired. Your frustration belongs in Washington, not at us. But that doesn’t seem to matter to any of you. I am not supporting raising fines because they are not going to work folks and I appreciate the efforts that have been made but the Danville restaurants, no offense Candace, they are going to continue doing what they continue to be doing. And the gyms in my District are going to continue doing what they are doing. I want to applaud the businesses who have chosen to follow the law. But if you choose to have to go back to business as it used to be, and I am sorry Dr. Farnitano and I am sorry to our health service officers, but this is not going to end until people choose to comply. We don’t have the money to backfill for lost business. I wish we did. Believe me, it would be front and center of what my colleagues and I talk about. But when I bring up the federal government to some of my constituents, I am shot down that I am making this a political statement or a political issue. Folks, get a clue. This is a political issue. This has been used as a political football by the man who soon will be leaving the White House, thank you, because he has not led.”
Mitchoff said there has been a lack of leadership in Washington.
“I won’t be supporting anything, again, its not enforceable and the public we heard from doesn’t seem to want to understand that all we are trying to do is save lives. They don’t think that is what we are doing so I am not doing it,” stated Mitchoff.
Just because the Board of Supervisors did not implement increased fines today, they could always come back next year and bring it back. Burgis made the point in her comments that business who remain open and operate in a business as usual capacity, to check with their insurance (liability) in case something happens because they might not be covered.
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diane Becton reports they have issued fines on behalf of Contra Costa Health Services—have learned more heavily on fines which include $250 (first offense), $500 (second offense) and $1,000 for each after. She said they can keep issuing the $1k fines if businesses do not correct and is a per day type of action.
Since Dec. 10, they have received 1,000 complaints with 200 that are still currently being investigated. 19 fines totally $4,600 fines with 2 notices of violations.
Last week during a press conference, Bay Area Counties announced rather than wait until only 15% of the region ICU beds to be available before a stay-at-home order went into effect, they are shutting down Sunday. The new restrictions will remain in place until January 4, 2021.
Dr. Christopher Farnitano stated they agree with the Governor and they needed to act now and will require many local business to change operations:
- Those who operate indoors must further reduce occupancy to 20% and write and enforce plans to ensure occupancy and face covering rules are followed.
- Personal care services, such as hair cutting and nails must close.
- Restaurants must close outside operations and convert to takeout and delivery only.
- Outdoor wineries and cardrooms must close.
Contra Costa County Openings at a Glance: click here