The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors failed to pass an urgency ordinance Tuesday that would have allowed additional enforcement for violators of the county’s health officer orders.
The board voted 3-2 on the ordinance that would have allowed peace officers to enforce violations of county health officer orders, like face coverings and large gatherings, with infraction citations and administrative fines. The urgency ordinance requires a fourth-fifths vote to pass.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino and 4th District Supervisor and board vice chair Peter Adam voted against the ordinance.
In its vote, the board moved to trial the ordinance, change it from an urgency ordinance to a regular ordinance, and alter its text to address issues of government overreach — an issue voiced by a majority of the item’s public commenters.
Had the urgency ordinance passed, it would have added a chapter to the county code officially making health officer orders county law. Any violation of orders would be an infraction that could be enforced by administrative mechanisms, like fines.
The maximum administrative fines for disobeying the health orders would be $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense, according to a presentation from Tuesday’s meeting.
Enforcement would have been carried out by local law enforcement as well as county public officers, like animal control officers.
While 2nd District Supervisor and board chair Gregg Hart, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann supported the urgency ordinance, Mr. Lavagnino opposed it on the grounds that its timing coincides with a downward trend in the county’s COVID-19 cases, and a time when the county medical apparatus isn’t overwhelmed.
Instead of enforcing violations with fines, Mr. Lavagnino said now is the time to focus on getting people back to work.
“All this stuff is just building up and we’re not dealing with it now because we’re not seeing it today. But unemployment, mortgage delinquencies, evictions, all those things are just a giant bubble, and eventually that thing is going to pop,” he said.
He added that the most egregious violations of county health officer orders already have been enforced by law enforcement, so expanding enforcers to include other public officers is unnecessary.
“If you’re not in law enforcement, you don’t know how to approach people and deal with a situation like this and try to de-escalate it. We can run into some real serious problems out there,” he said.
Mr. Adam called the urgency ordinance “a well-intentioned but profoundly bad idea” that “vests and consolidates unreasonable power in a poorly defined group of unelected bureaucrats.”
After Mr. Lavagnino and Mr. Adam voiced opposition to the urgency ordinance and it became clear the board wouldn’t have the needed to pass it, Mr. Williams moved to strip the urgency element from the ordinance and bring it back to the board as a regular ordinance at a future date.
Some of the proposed changes include giving initial warnings rather than immediately issuing fines, as well as narrowing enforcers from public officers to specifically those with experience approaching residents when a violation has occurred.
Whereas an urgency ordinance would have become effective the day it was passed by a four-fifths vote, a regular ordinance becomes effective 30 days after passage. A second reading at a regular meeting is required at least five days after the first reading.