New County Enforcement Team Ready to Charge $500 for Violations of Covid-19 Orders

In Santa Clara County—as well as at beaches, shopping centers and parks scattered across the state—pandemic fatigue and coronavirus carelessness are deepening, right at a time when public health officials say more discipline is needed.

Masks are dropping or lowering, family picnics are growing, workplace distances are easing and testing is haphazard, while case numbers and hospitalizations grow each day.

Complaints about lax, erratic or nonexistent enforcement of mask requirements and other anti-virus restrictions also are growing.

As are frustrations of local officials, who have a message for coronavirus scofflaws: Someone may soon be knocking on your doors.

In an effort to regain control of the pandemic, Santa Clara County supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to create a new tool for a group of enforcers by using a combination of warnings and fines rather than criminal penalties.

The new ordinance “is critical to deal with the significant volume of complaints,” County Counsel James Williams told the supervisors.

“It provides a practical alternative to using the criminal courts system,” Supervisor Joe Simitian explained. “It is a little more flexible and less punitive.”

Under the new ordinance, designated public health enforcement officers—including any sworn peace officer, county employee, or other individual named by the county health officer—will enforce public health orders by issuing notices and imposing administrative fines of up to $500 for individuals and $5,000 for businesses.

The fines will be imposed if “responsible parties” fail to abate violations within a grace period of up to 72 hours from the issuance of the notice.

The first group of 32 enforcers are scheduled to hit the streets next Monday, supervisors were told earlier this week. Their target areas are East San Jose, South County, downtown San Jose, Little Saigon, downtown Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

Under the ordinance approved this week, civil penalties for non-commercial violations in Santa Clara County (not associated with a business or business transaction) are between $25 and $500, and between $250 and $5,000 for violations involving commercial activities (associated with a business or business transaction).

The move shifts enforcement away from police—who strained at being pulled away from battling crime for Covid-19 mask enforcement—and towards public information and civil fines enforced by a broader range of civil enforcers.

County officials said they also hope that “the grace period provision will allow most entities to avoid any fines by providing evidence of promptly correcting the violation.”

“A grace period would be the default, and it is also consistent with the county’s broader efforts focusing on education and outreach that have been previously approved by the board,” county staff wrote in a memo about the new policy.

The county’s Emergency Operations Center will establish a Community and Business Engagement Branch (CBEB) with three goals:

  1. To initiate robust community and business outreach and engagement through coordination with community-based organizations to educate businesses and the community on Public Health Orders
  2. To monitor and assist voluntary compliance with health orders after receiving reports of violations
  3. To refer violations impacting public health, safety and welfare to the County Counsel’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office “when efforts at voluntary compliance prove ineffective.”

Generally, this new branch will proactively contact businesses and individuals in an effort to obtain voluntary compliance with coronavirus public health orders through education before issuing a notice of violation under the urgency ordinance.

County staff said most notices of violation to businesses will include a grace period that provides an opportunity to voluntarily comply with the health orders before the applicable fine becomes effective.

“Only in limited circumstances (e.g., when there is a particularly severe and immediate threat to public health, or when a business is a repeat offender) will no grace period be provided,” the staff reported.

One of the first assignments of the CBEB, in late August, will be implementing a centralized complaint management system to better coordinate compliance and enforcement efforts across multiple county departments, including the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

It is hoped that this system will help facilitate rapid response to complaints.

The ordinance also establishes an administrative appeals process before the Office of the County Hearing Officer that allows responsible parties to contest that they committed a violation and/or the amount of the administrative fine levied against them.

This appeals process allows individuals to present testimony and written evidence. All final orders of the county hearing officer will be appealable to Superior Court.

“The civil enforcement system established by the urgency ordinance is intended to supplement all other enforcement proceedings authorized by local, state, or federal law,” according to county officials. “It does not alter or diminish the authority of the sheriff, the county counsel, or the district attorney to address any such violations.”

12 Comments

  1. Good Luck with that.

    The minute one of these civil enforcement jokers knock on my door then I am going to slam the door in his face and tell him to call a cop.

  2. how do you type this and not laugh out loud?

    “Masks are dropping or lowering, family picnics are growing, workplace distances are easing”

    you mean acting like human beings?

    “Complaints about lax, erratic or nonexistent enforcement of mask requirements”

    you mean Karen runs the place?

    “Attention coronavirus scofflaws: Someone may soon be knocking on your doors.”

    and people call me a bootlicker?

    People, take a breath. Grab a mirror. And look at what you’ve become.

  3. Insane. This Pandemic never reached exponential growth. The Current little bump is already declining. Open hospital beds are at a 1 month high according to Santa Clara County.

  4. “…while case numbers and hospitalizations grow each day…”

    According to the county’s website, COVID-19 accounts for 6.6% of patients in our local hospitals (leaving over 2400 beds for other needs). On the testing front, the percentage of positives as of one month ago (prior to the convenient computer crash) was four (that’s 4 people out of every hundred that feel the need to be tested, which is a small fraction of country residents). The indications (provided by the county) suggest that rate is now less than 1%.

    Nonetheless, the Politburo promises to come for you.

  5. Seriously, we are tired of this garbage. I am tired of you morons in the press continuing to act as if the politicians and petty bureaucrats pay your god damned salary. Do some actual investigative journalism for once instead of sucking up to these criminals.
    These asshats are letting criminals out of San Quentin, but those who don’t follow Corona virus protocol are the Real Criminals?

    ………And, the horse you rode in on.

  6. Lincoln ave san jose masks are forgotten this week..last week it was much better.. I guess mask patrol will get hugh business there… but cops dont even handle the traffic anger we see daily on lincoln ave.. yes road rage is the new norm on lincoln raceway.. so if road rage is never addressed do you think mask wearing will be enforced..i am laughing way too hard..

  7. What kind of idiot goes to a public place without wearing a mask? Someone who doesn’t care about others.

  8. Given that self-proclaimed authorities’ draconian actions have resulted in the temporary or even permanent closure of innumerable tax-paying businesses, governments apparently have to recoup somehow all the revenue that they’ve previously squandered on pet projects and lavish benefits for government employees.

    Some few months ago we were told that if we all self-quarantined for 14 days, the virus would go away. And we were at first told that we shouldn’t wear masks, because they didn’t help—they were supposed to be reserved for health-care workers. (If they didn’t help, why should health-care workers have had them at all? We weren’t apparently supposed to notice the contradiction.)

    And what additional restrictions are bureaucrats going to impose in the future now that they’ve gotten a taste of power? Already churches aren’t supposed to meet, but the ability to buy marijuana and alcohol is “essential.” (The latter sales bring in taxes; churches don’t. Coincidence? I’m going to guess not …)

    Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

    The fines provide “a practical alternative to using the criminal courts system.” They sure do: they provide a way to replenish the county coffers.

  9. F.U. Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, you are going to get people hurt with this “Karening”.
    The disease is real, the “pandemic” is a hoax. Figure it out or face the wrath of a pissed of populace.
    Bunch of damn crooks who all need to be shown the door.

  10. The self-quarantine was never 14 days, AFAIK. It was at least 4 weeks.
    The contradiction you mentioned is solved by the shortage of masks, needing to be reserved for healthcare workers. Remember the shortage of masks, especially N95?
    ‘Churches aren’t supposed to meet’ – uh, yeah, not directed at churches, but directed at large indoor close gatherings.
    The Earth isn’t flat, and you’re not paranoid. Well,,,,

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