On August 6, 2020, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a code enforcement ordinance that allows the issuing of citations ranging from $100 for individuals up to $10,000 for businesses for noncompliance with local and state health orders related to the coronavirus.
The ordinance was approved unanimously and on an urgency basis, which allowed it to take effect immediately. The Board also approved the creation of a new County hotline – 1-833-SAFE707 – that will allow the public to report infractions. The public also can register complaints by sending emails to email@example.com.
“Our goal is to prioritize education and outreach before fines. We know that most people are following the health orders and wearing facial coverings when out in public, practicing social distancing and avoiding large gatherings,” said Board Chair Susan Gorin. “But we have seen a need for more enforcement options to deal with the small number of folks who are willfully disregarding the order. This ordinance will help address this issue in our community.”
Under the ordinance, individuals can be fined a flat fee of $100 for such infractions as failing to wear facial coverings, not practicing safe social distancing (maintaining 6-foot separations from non-family members) when in public or taking part in gatherings of more than 12 people who aren’t sheltering in the same household. Individuals also can be fined for refusing to abide by COVID-19 safety protocols required at restaurants, stores and other businesses. Commercial operations such as restaurants, bars and stores face fines starting at $1,000 for noncompliance such as not requiring safe practices for employees. A commercial violation is subject to a civil penalty of $5,000 for a second violation and $10,000 for each additional violation by the same responsible party.
The ordinance allows government employees outside of law enforcement, such as code enforcement officers and park rangers, to issue citations, which will have the weight of a civil penalty such as a parking ticket. Law enforcement and community officials from incorporated cities in Sonoma County have indicated that they intend to assist in enforcing the citations or adopt similar ordinances.
Due to rising rates of infection and low availability of ICU beds to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, Sonoma County was placed on a state County watch list by the California Department of Public Health on July 13. As a result, local businesses such as restaurants and wineries were required to close indoor operations. Malls, movie theaters, entertainment centers and other operations that tend to attract large indoor gatherings also were forced to close indefinitely.
Approval of this enforcement ordinance now aligns Sonoma County with neighboring jurisdictions, including Marin, Mendocino and Napa counties, which have similar enforcement measures in place.
Businesses dealing with customers who are not complying with health orders also may call 1-833-SAFE707 to report non-compliance. Businesses can find more resources on SoCoLaunch.org.