Mask up or pay up; cities impose fines for disobeying orders
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Choosing not to wear a mask in parts of California could cost you.
Fines for not making the effort to help curb spread of the coronavirus could set you back $300 in West Hollywood and $100 each in the cities of Santa Monica and Monterey as officials statewide scramble to control a surge of cases heading into the July 4 holiday weekend.
The firmer approach to impose fines and ramp up enforcement of a rule that previously had carried no penalty reflects a parting from the non-punitive approach of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Newsom has chosen encouragement over punishment to get more Californians to comply with his mask mandate, which has become a politicized issue. While public health officials say face coverings are a no-brainer way to curb possible spread of the virus, the order has been resisted by people who claim it violates their personal freedom.
At Mel’s Drive-In on the Sunset Strip recently, one woman argued with Colton Weiss, grandson of the franchise’s founder, Mel Weiss, when he asked her to put on a mask.
“She was asking me, ‘What are you, God?’ ” he recounted Thursday, wearing a black mask branded with the Mel’s logo.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Edward Ramirez, who heads the West Hollywood station, said city officials decided early this week to take a stronger stance as coronavirus cases increased. He said most people have complied after being warned.
Deputies will continue to warn people and hand out masks to those who don’t have their own, he said. As a “very last option” they can issue a non-criminal citation to people who refuse to don the protection. The ticket comes with a fine of $250 for a first offense, as well as a $50 fee.
“We don’t just want to arbitrarily hand out citations,” Ramirez told The Associated Press. “Our goal is not to write a citation.”
WeHo, as it’s referred to locally, bills itself as a progressive policy trendsetter. The 2-square-mile (5.2-square-kilometer) city surrounded by Los Angeles and bordered by Beverly Hills was the first in the nation to have a majority openly gay governing body and is known for its large LGBTQ community and thriving night life.
West Hollywood contracts with the sheriff’s department to provide law enforcement in the city. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said deputies elsewhere in the county will continue to ask people for voluntary compliance but don’t plan to issue fines.
Nationwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases per day rose to an all-time high of more than 50,000 on Thursday. The surge has been blamed in part on Americans not covering their faces or following other social distancing rules as states lifted their lockdowns over the past few weeks.
Heading into the Fourth of July holiday, health officials begged people to stay home and warned that big crowds could fuel the outbreak. Many municipalities have canceled fireworks displays. Beaches up and down California and Florida — where numerous municipalities have ordered the wearing of masks in public spaces, which some opponents are challenging in court — have been closed.
As the number of cases jumped by nearly 50% in two weeks, Newsom said “strike teams” will ensure businesses follow rules, and some $2.5 billion in state funding could be withheld from counties that don’t enforce state orders.
Newsom likened not wearing a mask to violating orders banning open bottles of booze in public or jaywalking and said it was best left to local officials.
“Eventually, if you’re not seeing behavioral change ... then we think citations are warranted when there’s abuse.”
On Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood on Thursday morning, some wore masks as they walked their dogs and others, who declined to comment, held their masks in their hands or wore them improperly under their noses or hanging off their ears.
Sarah and Stacy Shapiro wore matching navy blue masks as they walked their dog, Boker. Sarah Shapiro said she supported the fines.
“If that’s what it takes to get people to wear a mask, then they should do it,” she said. “When I see somebody not wearing one, I think it’s not fair.”
Andrew Stuart wore an orange bandana as he took a selfie with his dog, Voltron.
“If you can wear a piece of cloth over your face and maybe save a life, it’s worth it,” he said.
Associated Press Writers Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed.