Los Angeles County Officials Want Fines, Potential Closures For Businesses Violating Coronavirus Orders

County Board of Supervisors next week will consider establishing fines more quickly shutting down businesses that fail to adhere to public health orders designed to control spread of .

“We wanted to have a public trust relationship with our business community,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement announcing the motion she introduced with Supervisor Janice Hahn.

“We assumed businesses, who had indicated they would comply with directives in order to reopen, would follow the rules, but last weekend suggests that far too many people are shrugging off the danger,” Kuehl said.

County health officials reported that during inspections last weekend, 49 percent of bars and 33 percent of restaurants were found to be violating physical distancing requirements, while 54 percent of bars and 44 percent of restaurants were failing to meet face mask/shield mandates for employees.

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California Coronavirus Update: Gov. Gavin Newsom Orders L.A. Restaurants, Movie Theaters To Shut Down Indoor Operations, Deploys Enforcement

On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered restaurants to close for dine-in service — though they will still be allowed to offer food for pickup or delivery.

The governor’s guideline to cease indoor operations for three weeks also included movie theaters, restaurants, indoor family entertainment businesses, card rooms and zoos. Over the weekend, the governor ordered bars and nightclubs closed.

Newsom said he hoping that people will comply with the guidelines voluntarily. If they do not, the governor said he deploying a “strike team” of government agencies to ensure compliance, especially where it concerns workplaces. Alcoholic Beverage Control, CalOSHA, the Department of Business Oversight, the Department of Consumer Affairs and the California Highway Patrol are among the agencies that will be enforcing the guidelines.

On Thursday, the governor said OSHA had sent out 350,000 letters to businesses laying out expectations in terms of “good business behaviors…in very, very prescriptive ways.” He revealed 10 agencies that will be fanning out to encourage compliance, including, now, the Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists. “If we can’t enforce them through encouragement,” he warned, “we’ll have to lean in a little more.”

L.A. County officials are, it seems, looking to “lean in” even sooner.

“The recent spike in cases and hospitalizations is very, very serious and jeopardizes our ability to care for people who get sick,” said Kuehl. “ motion says, ‘Business owners, please take seriously. We will fine you if you’re out of compliance, and if we find you’re out of compliance a second time, we will shut you down.’”

According to the motion, inspectors would fine businesses for the first violation and could shut them down on the second visit if compliance had not been achieved.

Here is the applicable passage, suggesting that officials should:

Consider a variable fine amount, based on the maximum occupancy of the facility, the level of non-compliance, and any other appropriate factors to ensure that the fine amount correlates to the public health risk the business’ non-compliance poses; Impose a fine upon the first finding of non-compliance by an Environmental Health Inspector…

Establish a protocol such that after a business is found out of compliance and is fined, its permit may be revoked as soon as the second visit to the business…

The motion asks public health officials to report back within two weeks with a plan for incorporating fines into the enforcement efforts “to ensure greater levels of compliance.”

Also on Thursday, Santa Monica decided to issue citations for anyone not wearing a face covering in public amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the area. In a revised order, the city set fines at $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second violation and $500 for a third. For businesses, the fines start at $500, increasing to $750 for a second violation and $1,000 for a third. It joins West Hollywood and Beverly Hills in a group of local cities issuing citations for violations of their mask orders.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the business fines and closure motion on Tuesday.

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