January 17, 2021

L.A. wants to impose tougher enforcement for mask violators

L.A. wants to impose tougher enforcement for mask violators

Under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Safer at Home” order, individuals who don’t wear masks can face up to a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.

But there’s been little enforcement of the rule.

Now, the Los Angeles City Council wants to crack down on mask scofflaws. Following local demonstrations by anti-mask groups at shopping malls, grocery stores and homeless encampments, the council moved Wednesday to bolster restrictions and subject more violators to financial penalties.

The council unanimously voted to order city attorneys to draft a law that would impose fines and penalties on those who refuse to wear a mask at indoor businesses when requested to do so by management, and on individuals who refuse to wear a mask when “invading someone’s personal space.”

Councilman Mike Bonin, who introduced the measure, cited a recent anti-mask demonstration at a Century City mall and an incident where an anti-mask group descended on skid row.

“Maskless protesters are going up to people, getting into people’s faces and deliberately using the fact that they are not wearing a mask as an act of aggression,” Bonin said.

Garcetti’s stay-at-home order requires people to wear masks in many situations and allows fines up to $1,000 or six months in jail for those who refuse. But the Los Angeles Police Department hasn’t given out any citations for not wearing a mask, Alex Comisar, Garcetti’s spokesman, said Wednesday.

“The city’s enforcement has been focused primarily on noncompliant businesses and party houses where people gather,” Comisar said. “For both individuals and businesses, our approach has always been to lead with education, encouragement and outreach, which most often results in voluntary compliance.”

The City Council also on Wednesday voted 11-3 to encourage city employees who are able to issue administrative citations to target those who violate the city’s mask orders. Councilman Paul Koretz’s motion asks the appropriate departments to “prioritize the issuance of citations, during the normal course of business, to persons not wearing a mask in public.”

City employees who could fine violators under the Administrative Citation Enforcement program, or ACE, include park rangers, animal services workers and street service employees.

“We don’t want to exhaust their resources,” Koretz said of these workers. “We’re not going to make this a complaint-driven [initiative]. If they see a gathering, they can stop and write these citations.”

A total of 13 administrative citations for nonmask compliance have been issued by the Bureau of Street Services, said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office. An administrative citation for not wearing a mask carries a $250 fine for a first offense, Wilcox said.

The city’s mask rule can be enforced by citation or criminal prosecution.

High-profile incidents in recent weeks in which anti-maskers descended upon crowds to protest restrictions have alarmed city leaders.

Maskless demonstrators several weeks ago gathered at an Erewhon market in the Fairfax district to decry coronavirus restrictions. More recently, demonstrators breached a Target on Beverly Boulevard.

Garcetti addressed the disturbances, including one at Century City mall, last week.

“We won’t have officers who are standing by witnessing that. We will take action. And don’t test us on this because you will find yourself in jail, cited or dealing with prosecution,” Garcetti said in a video briefing.

Comisar said that several individuals who were not wearing masks attempted to cause a disturbance Sunday at the Beverly Connection and Westfield Century City malls. “The LAPD quickly responded and threatened to arrest them for trespassing, and the situation was resolved peacefully,” Comisar said.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Koretz said the cities of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are tougher on enforcing compliance with mask-wearing than Los Angeles and called for “greater action” in light of the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Council members Bonin, Nithya Raman and John Lee voted against the ACE motion.

“My fears about broad enforcement of such mandates is that they would be unevenly applied, as they were in New York City where Black residents were targeted,” Raman said, citing an incident in which New York City officers were accused of racial profiling when making arrests for social distancing.

Lee spokeswoman Grace Yao said Lee doesn’t believe that “utilizing certain city staff to cite noncompliant residents would not only be difficult, but also a poor use of the city’s limited staff and resources given the current fiscal crisis.“

“He believes Angelenos are fully capable of self-regulating and keeping each other accountable to do the right thing,” Yao said.

Koretz, whose Westside district has been targeted by anti-mask demonstrations, said he was outraged by such events. “They are clearly trying to spread a disease that kills someone,” Koretz said.