The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance Tuesday allowing for the issuing of infraction violations or administrative fines toward those who violate Public Health Officer orders against gatherings.
Meant to provide an enforcement tool beyond just educating and persuading county residents to follow COVID-19 restrictions, but one less severe than issuing a misdemeanor criminal citation, the ordinance passed with a 3-2 vote. Fourth District supervisor and board vice chair Peter Adam and 5th District supervisor Steve Lavagnino voted against it.
The ordinance adds Chapter 51 to the County Code and would address egregious violations of the Public Health Officer orders where it’s deemed education and persuasion have been ineffective. According to a board letter, a fine for a first violation would be $100, the second $200, and the third $500.
Examples of violations that would be subject to fines include: parties exceeding the number of people or households allowed; businesses that fail to comply with reopening guidelines, like capacity limitations and enacting protective measures; and large groups gathered at a park or beach.
Mr. Adam objected to the ordinance and treating COVID-19 as if all people have the same risk of dying from it should they catch it.
During the meeting Mr. Adam referred to thoughts expressed in a document called “The Great Barrington Declaration.” Authored by many epidemiologists and public health scientists, the document calls for adopting measures that protect those vulnerable from COVID-19 while allowing those who are not in grave danger from the coronavirus to resume life as normal.
“I would prefer that our county government reject the idea of draconian regulation for failing to comply with Health Officer orders,” Mr. Adam said.
He added, “COVID-19 has become a pretext for the government healthcare complex to institute a command-and-control scheme on the people of Santa Barbara County and elsewhere.”
Mr. Lavagnino pointed out that, as of Tuesday’s meeting, only 12 people out of Santa Barbara County’s approximately 450,000-person population are hospitalized. To enact punitive measures like fines, he said, would be an overreach of government authority.
“We’ve got to put it into perspective, and at some point, we have to allow people to kind of get back to reality a little bit,” he said.
He added, “I think that this is just one more notch in the belt of government, you know, kind of putting our foot down.”
First District supervisor Das Williams said that there is an “imperative” for Santa Barbara to move to the orange and later the yellow tier, and for people to be able to proceed with their lives, have their children educated, not have their jobs threatened, and not have their businesses destroyed.
All of those he said “are contingent upon us being able to continue to make progress in reduction of transmission,” so he voted for having the extra enforcement mechanism.
Second District supervisor Gregg Hart remarked that he didn’t see allowing for the issuing of fines as a “crackdown,” but rather as an “incremental, nuanced tool that will add to the range of enforcement activities” the county has available.
Third District supervisor Joan Hartmann also supported the ordinance, likening the fines as a deterrent akin to CHP officers on Highway 101 preventing one from driving over the speed limit.
In other business, the Board of Supervisors also accepted a COVID-19 update from Public Health director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, which reported that Santa Barbara County is right on the border between the red and orange tiers.
Dr. Do-Reynoso told the board that Isla Vista is currently experiencing an outbreak, with those testing positive for COVID-19 exhibiting mild symptoms.
“We are not seeing serious symptoms at this point,” she said.
The Public Health director added that COVID-19 testing in Isla Vista will ramp up with additional hours and the county Public Health Department will be partnering with UCSB to do contact tracing to contain the spread of the virus.
The Board of Supervisors also unanimously voted to accept a five-year capital improvement program and to accept an annual update from the Central Coast Community Member Agency.