Contra Costa County supervisors approve fines for COVID-19 scofflaws

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors used its emergency powers on Tuesday to unanimously pass an ordinance establishing administrative fines for violations of public health orders involving wearing face coverings, social distancing and gatherings.

The ordinance is in effect immediately and allows infraction citations to be given to those who violate COVID-19-related county health orders.

County officials say the ability to issue infraction tickets would likely prove more responsive in addressing most violations than the current complaint procedure, and that such ticketing would enable better proactive enforcement.

For health order violations involving non-commercial activities, the amount of the fine is $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation, and $500 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation.

For violations involving commercial activity, the amount of the fine is $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation, and $1,000 for each additional violation within one year of the initial violation.

If a violation continues for more than one day, each day is considered a separate violation.

The ordinance would also allow for anyone given a ticket to appeal that infraction, which would require filing a written appeal within 10 days after the ticket is given.

Among the Contra Costa County health order's requirements are that people must wear masks or other face coverings when inside, on the grounds of or waiting in line to enter any business. Also, indoor religious services and cultural ceremonies are prohibited. 

 Three of the nine Bay Area counties; Contra Costa, Marin, and Napa have enacted local rules that are far less harsh than the state's. It appears that only a handful of citations have been issued.

"We're trying to lead with education. Ideally, were not going to sneak up on anybody and smack them with a fine, but give them the opportunity to take corrective action," said Laine Hendricks, Marin County Information Officer.

Sonoma is expected to enact such a law August 6. Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Solano counties have yet to do so.

Some say there seems to have been reluctance to put the hammer down because common sense and social pressure usually works.

"Most laws on the books enjoy voluntary compliance and it takes no involvement of any government official or police officer," said former San Francisco Police Commander, Richard Corriea, who now heads the USF International Institute of Criminal Justice. He says, in effect, the fines and sanctions are a back up for dealing with those who think they don't have to follow the rules. "I think police would look at what risk is presented by the behavior of the person," said Mr. Correia. 

But, if COVID continues to run wild, Corriea says police may be forced to use less discretion.

When the issue becomes enforcement around masks, I think that law enforcement officers in California need a clear message from their political leaders that this is part of the mission and they'd like them to go out and do it," said Correia.

"That is what's going to help us slow the spread, get us off the Governor's watch list, so that we can resume opening up our economy," said Hendricks in Marin. 

KTVU's Tom Vacar contributed to this report.