Public Health Enforcement Team Now Issuing Fines in South Bay

Violating Santa Clara County’s public health order already came with the risk of criminal prosecution. But as of last week, there’s another penalty that’s less severe but likely to become more common: fines of $500 for individuals and $5,000 for businesses.

Frustrated by the lack of compliance but hesitant to refer violators to the DA, the Board of Supervisors last week authorized an enforcement team to bring scofflaws in line with the county’s myriad public health mandates.

The ordinance stemmed from reports of numerous violations by not only restaurants and stores, but also nonprofit and private healthcare providers turning people away for Covid-19 tests and landlords flouting the local eviction moratorium by ousting tenants.

In a memo advocating for the policy, County Counsel James Williams stressed that those kinds of violations put the public at grave risk for infection, deepening the present crisis.

“Because Covid-19 spreads exponentially if risk reduction protocols are not strictly followed, any such violations could cause many preventable illnesses and deaths,” he argued. “These violations also jeopardize local social and economic wellbeing, increasing the potential for renewed curtailment of business operations, school closures, and activity restrictions. On the other hand, multiple scientific studies have confirmed that social distancing measures, the use of facial coverings, robust testing, and rapid contact tracing are effective at reducing transmission of Covid-19.”

Since the 10-member enforcement unit began pursuing leads late last week, it has already sent notices to three non-compliant businesses, officials said. Two corrected the issues; third still has time to dodge a fine by doing the same.

Michael Balliet, head of the county’s Environmental Health Department, is leading the new team, which tapped employees with experience enforcing restaurant grades.

“All of our staff on the enforcement team are trained in regulatory compliance,” he said in a brief phone interview earlier this week. “So this is a natural extension of the work they were already doing, which is very collaborative.”

As with the food-service compliance program, Balliet said the goal of the pandemic enforcement unit is to bring businesses in line and, ideally, to avoid having to issue steep fines. If the county identifies a violation, it gives the subject up to 74 hours to fix the problem before resorting to a monetary penalty.

For now, the team will operate on a complaint-based basis, Balliet explained. Referrals come in from the public and other enforcement agencies, the staff reviews them and then determines which ones are worth a site visit to issue a notice.

The county working on putting together a database, Balliet said, and then the plan will be to share some information with the public. To incentivize compliance, however, the county plans to withhold information about violators if they address the underlying problem and avoid the fine, he added.

Criminal prosecution is still an option, of course—that’s inherent to public health orders. But at least there’s now some recourse between a misdemeanor and outright impunity.

“This doesn’t take away from criminal enforcement,” Balliet acknowledged. “I will just point out, though, that most businesses are compliant, or want to be compliant, and we appreciate that. These measures have more to do with those 10 to 15 percent of businesses that just don’t follow the order.”

The new fines put Santa Clara County in the ranks of several other Bay Area jurisdictions that began pursuing civil penalties last month.

Williams described civil enforcement as “another tool” in the fight against Covid.

“It is our hope that businesses will use the grace period to make the necessary corrections and avoid fines, but if they fail to do so, the penalties are significant,” he said in a news release announcing the fines. “The vast majority of businesses are playing by the rules and keeping our community’s wellbeing as their priority, but those that are not need to know that our community is serious about enforcement. We all have a responsibility to do our part and closely and consistently follow public health directives.”

There’s also money on the line for the county.

The enforcement policy will also help the county meet expectations of state health officials, who recently made clear that funding for local governments will be contingent on how effectively they enforce their own pandemic protocols.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

22 Comments

  1. > Frustrated by the lack of compliance but hesitant to refer violators to the DA, the Board of Supervisors last week authorized an enforcement team to bring scofflaws in line.

    WHAT? ! !

    How is this legal?

    Since when can legislative bodies send out their OWN band of enforcers to collect fines for violating dubious and debatable behavior rules decreed by THEIR OWN appointed bureaucrats?

    Are they also going to seize guns, shut down church services, and prohibit jury trials?

    These people are OUT OF CONTROL!

  2. Bay Area progressive media and its intelligentsia fountainhead have successfully smoothed over the collective and individual neocortex. We are all binary now, navigating blind with only fear and pain, processing everything on a per moment basis through the lizard brain.

    The combined devolution of the individual and civilization.

  3. So now, if a business is cited, they are in essence being sued civilly by the County, and due to the potential amount of the fine, this would go to small claims court? There’s a bottleneck. And where is the legal authority for these people to do anything regarding criminal enforcement, they’re not peace officers and this isn’t a law passed by the legislature? I apologize for this grotesque analogy but it is reminiscent of “Someone” in a certain European country in the 1930’s seizing “emergency power” and, among other things, requiring certain people to wear yellow stars on their clothing. Enough is enough. Masks should.be voluntary and worn by alarmists.

  4. it is about time elected officials do things to insure our community health. the selfish individuals place the rest of us at risk of severe illness and death. masks are necessary.

  5. > masks are necessary.

    How much are you going to demand of other people so that you no longer feel fearful?

    Are you sure that masks are ENOUGH? Wouldn’t you be less fearful if everyone were forced to wear burkas? Why not put everyone in complete biohazard containment suits?

    And is six feet of social distancing enough? Why not thirty feet? Or seventy-five feet?

  6. Mr. Shudo,
    Stay in your home. Don’t go outside. Don’t answer the door. Don’t drive. Don’t have sex. Don’t go to the dentist or the doctor. Don’t drink water you don’t boil first. Don’t use electricity. Make only the smallest cooking fire you can after clearing 100 yards of potentially flammable away from your fire pit then douse the fire, stir the ashes, and repeat twice when you’re done. All these things are dangerous. Don’t go swimming. Don’t go up or down stairs. Don’t use a ladder. Wear a coat hanger hat wrapped with aluminum foil. Life is dangerous.

  7. “Because Covid-19 spreads exponentially if risk reduction protocols are not strictly followed, any such violations could cause many preventable illnesses and deaths,” — County Counsel James Williams

    If the Board of Supervisors is frustrated by what it perceives as a lack of compliance, as reported above, and we assume the concern is valid, then we must conclude two things. The first, that there is indeed a lack of compliance. The second, that non-compliance is having a detrimental effect on public health. Not knowing where to look for non-compliance but concerned about the “deepening crisis” I checked the Covid dashboard to get an idea of the damage these non-compliant bastards are doing to our county.

    Before citing the numbers, I’d first like to alert the county’s enforcement team to the complete lack of compliance on the part of the health department, which is apparently refusing to provide statistics compatible with the “deepening crisis” narrative. So recklessly negligent is it that it is not unreasonable to imagine visitors to the site coming away convinced the crisis is a sham.

    What I am most concerned about is hospital beds, of which fewer than 7% are reportedly occupied by Covid patients (who may actually be there for other health issues). This is a statistic that may cause people to stop believing that non-complaint businesses are a problem, especially when they go on to learn that fewer than 5% of the half-million people tested (a select group with symptoms, worries, or hospital requirements) test positive. How are we compliant types expected to condemn, shame, and hate small business owners when only about one person a day — in a county of two million — succumbs to the virus, alone or in combination with other maladies, and one-third of these are patients in long-term health facilities?

    Common sense demands that the first raid, and I suggest it be a SWAT type operation, take place at the county health department. The folks there need a lesson about teamwork, cooking the books, and the do’s and don’ts of totalitarian governance.

  8. Mr Elli,

    I think this must be dealt with by civil disobedience. The state of the public right now is so compliant, really complicit to this unsubstantiated authoritarianism they need to see themselves fighting against freedoms that are being taken away with no factual basis. Let us also remember the story from last week, it was not the county that was frustrated, but “Koncerned Kitizens” that were complaining everyday people were allowed to walk the streets uncovered. And they wonder how such a ancient, rich, and storied culture that Iranians share can so quickly devolve into a oppressively religious patriarchal regime.

    It is clear to me that the normal institutions, such as progressive alt-weeklies, highly awarded journalist such as Ms Wadsworth, and liberal law firms, etc are not only not engaging to uphold civil liberties, they are actively partnering in their suppression. Did we just not witness marches across the country bemoaning law enforcement overreach? People would be surprised how popular the drug war was in the 80s and 90s on the “liberal” side of the aisle that created the mass incarceration drug laws. The James Williams quote is notably alarming, actually, as it stood unchallenged in this piece.

  9. Turn off infowars.com.
    You complain about authoritarianism when something as simple as mask wearing is enforced, but somehow the use of unmarked government militia to illegally detain peaceful protesters (and in some cases innocent bystanders) doesn’t bother you one bit. You, sir, are a brainwashed moron.

  10. Up until those marches, Chief Garcia was the favorite son of progressive left such as yourself. He was Pro-BLM happily bending the knee, cracking down on free speech by officers, overseer of political violence on Trump supporters. He was the vanguard, the re-imagine of the new police. Us infowar.com cult members complained about Garcia and people like you laughed, mocked, said suck it.

    Then authoritarians gonna authorize, cause thats what they do. And now you think you know something we have been saying all along.

    The problem with ideologically possessed people like yourself, is you don’t allow yourself to see anything that strays from your precious narrative. You rationalized the Trump Rally, you say police officer have no rights, and then the rubber bullets fly.

    This crackdown, the propaganda, tough talk by tough guys like you, whipping up the public to tell on each other and hate (two threads prominent in this outlet) each other, the knocking on doors, it is plainly obvious what this is, if you open your eyes to see it. The masks, any two-week quarantines, whatever measures are not scientific, there just isn’t enough info to claim that. They simultaneously keep you scared and mollify those complaining to the county about the very real hole they are in.

    But you won’t see it because cognitive dissonance is powerful and your identity is contingent of the absolute need to be right.

    Well you will see.

  11. ROBYN under that logic we should have always worn masks and should keep doing so. Actually, you should also stop having sex. Perhaps wear googles with the mask. Then since your hands carry quite a bit of germs, be required to have them cuffed behind our backs in public.

    Then we will be safe.

  12. “These people are OUT OF CONTROL!“ is putting it MILDLY!! We’re running out of words for this whole power grab.

  13. SHUDO YAKUSHIN, if the government, in a power grab, told you to walk on one hand or you would be fined, would you do that also?

  14. SJ KULAK, you failed to say Fauci said we are to never shake hands again.

    But, HEY!! The good news is that Fauci also said hooking up with strangers from Internet dating sites such as Tinder is OK.

  15. This is our gibberish. With zero scientific evidence to support it. Idiots. Show some evidence masks help. Plenty of evidence but caress pleurisy. Democrat leadership has turned into idiotville, with idiot remarks like this, “ “Because Covid-19 spreads exponentially if risk reduction protocols are not strictly followed, any such violations could cause many preventable illnesses and deaths”. Just pure idiocy. Talk about claims with zero evidence to support them. This is it. And “violations”. What country did you move in here?

  16. Enforcement Teams are just complete and utter nonsense. While most normal folks are trying desperately to stay in business the government is determined to shut down businesses and the economy. Guess that’s how socialism starts and the government takes over. Meanwhile taxpayers are going to have to pay the salary for so called “ county enforcement team” agitators who likely have no qualifications and likely little or no education credentials. Maybe they should be spend their time efficiently and educate the chronic complainers who unfortunately believe they are “medical experts”.

  17. > but somehow the use of unmarked government militia to illegally detain peaceful protesters (and in some cases innocent bystanders) doesn’t bother you one bit.

    I’m unfamiliar with this.

    Did this happen somewhere?

  18. Show them the door and sue the government asses off for gross abuse of power. It’s long overdue. Criminal prosecution? None of those “orders” are laws.

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