The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved this urgency ordinance during the July 21 meeting.
Towns and cities in Marin County are planning to join the County of Marin with enhanced enforcement of public health orders to help curtail the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. A new task force will collaborate with city and town personnel to focus on business violations throughout the county.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors approved an urgency ordinance at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that creates new civil penalties for violations of orders issued by County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. The ordinance provides an administrative penalty framework to allow town, city, and additional County personnel to help law enforcement officers address violations of health and safety codes. The framework will be used to supplement existing enforcement methods, including criminal misdemeanor actions where education and civil penalties are not successful in deterring violations. Efforts will focus on business violations, but jurisdictions will have discretion to enforce where they see the greatest risk to public health in their communities.
The County announced the creation of an email address, SIPviolation@marincounty.org, on July 16 to which anyone may send tips about businesses violating COVID-related health orders. Reporting parties should include the business name, address, and as much detail as possible regarding the perceived health order violation. Photos and other documentation welcome, too. Reports will be forwarded to the appropriate governing agency for review and investigation, with a focus on businesses not adhering to the public health orders.
With a recent spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Willis advocated that it’s necessary to recruit assistance to enforce the rules and stem the outbreak of the infectious disease. Wherever appropriate, informal intervention and education will be used as the method of choice to encourage voluntary compliance with public health orders. The new administrative penalties will provide an additional tool where education and warnings are not effective.
“The majority of Marin residents and businesses are complying with our public health orders during this pandemic, but there’s been an increasing need for stronger enforcement,” Willis said. “Ending this health emergency will take a sustained team effort, and our goal with this action is to hold people accountable for actions that jeopardize public health.”
“Cities and towns will continue to focus on education to ensure compliance with public health orders,” said Greg Chanis, Tiburon Town Manager and chair of the local city and town managers association. “In addition, we appreciate the opportunity to partner with the County on these new enforcement tools to assist in that effort. The virus doesn’t respect borders, so we need consistent and flexible tools to educate and enforce in our communities.”
The civil penalty for noncommercial health code violations related to COVID-19 will be between $25 and $500. For commercial activity, it will be $250 to $10,000. Factors determining the size of a penalty include risks to public health, previous warnings, lack of good-faith efforts to comply, and increased revenue generated from noncompliance.
A task force – including Community Development Agency Code Enforcement, Environmental Health Services, the Sheriff’s Office, and the County Counsel’s Office – will collaborate with city and town personnel to focus on local business violations. Those authorized to issue citations for public health code violations include public safety officers (law enforcement and fire), code enforcement officers, park rangers, and any other employees designated by Marin towns, cities, or the County. They may enforce the public health code by inspecting public or private property and fine anyone obstructing the code enforcement. The designated officers may provide up to 72 hours for a violator to abate an issue and avoid penalty. The County plans to initiate a centralized hearing process for the administrative civil penalties.
Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health recently installed more restrictions on certain sectors of the economy because of the statewide surge in cases. Indoor business operations in many sectors were shuttered July 13 despite the gradual reopening of the economy weeks earlier. On July 2, Marin County joined more than 30 other counties on the state’s watch list, prompting the July 5 temporary closures of additional industries deemed non-critical as listed in Section 15.f of the current shelter-in-place order.