The Santa Barbara City Council discussed how to further enforce face mask wearing in public in its meeting on Tuesday, particularly focusing on the State Street promenade which has become a highly populated area.
The county health officer order issued on July 24 provides the city authority to enforce mask usage where an individual cannot keep a six-foot distance from others. This order is applicable to crowded public areas only and a violation would be an infraction equivalent to a monetary fine.
The council unanimously passed a motion approving the educational enforcement via ambassadors and the police department, with the ability to write citations as a last resort with targeted enforcement in high-risk areas.
The meeting began at 2 p.m. and Mayor Cathy Murillo was seated for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The camera in the city council chambers is a stationary computer. We decided that I would do the pledge seated so that I could look into the camera and we put an image of the American flag there that I am saluting,” she told the News-Press.
She added, “Once a month I participate in the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and Air Pollution Control District meetings, which are held in the County Board of Supervisors hearing room, where I participate in person. And I always stand for the flag salute for those meetings.”
The mayor concluded saying remote meetings are challenging, but for everyone to “please know I have deep respect for our flag.”
According to John Doimas, the assistant city attorney, the citations are equivalent to parking tickets, and ambassadors would need training to issue them. Those ticketed can appeal, much like a parking citation.
“Working in tandem with the ambassadors and the police department, the police department would have a presence on the (500 block of State Street) and coordinate an educational approach,” said Rob Dayton, the transportation planning and parking manager for the city. “By the authority of the badge and the uniform, you get more compliance than you would with an ambassador. We’ve gotten to 90% compliance with just the ambassadors and I think we can go the rest of the way with that (police) presence and revisit it if we think it needs more.”
Nina Johnson, the senior assistant to the city administrator, gave a presentation on how the city has been encouraging compliance.
Since June, masks have been mandatory in public, including outdoors if a six-foot distance is not possible, at work near other people or in common areas, inside any indoor public space, on public transportation and when ride-sharing.
Masks can be removed when eating or drinking, not sharing a common area, outdoors with a six-foot distance, if wearing a mask poses a risk like getting stuck in machinery and if a hearing-impaired person needs to read lips.
Exemptions include children under 2 years old, people with respiratory issues, people who cannot remove a mask without help and anyone with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability who cannot wear a mask.
In addition to education and signage in busy areas such as the State Street promenade, Mr. Dayton shared a survey the city has been conducting to determine why individuals don’t wear masks or take free ones offered to them.
According to the survey, the number one answer is they forgot, followed by they intend to social distance, exercise, feel discomfort with the mask or they were not aware of the governor’s order. These responses represent 70% of the people who were not wearing masks this last weekend.
“There was a big difference from the weekend before last and just this last weekend,” Mr. Dayton said. “We’ve been counting the number of people who have masks and who don’t. We were at 60/40 last weekend and now we’re at about 90% compliance.”
Capt. Todd Stoney of the police department said they hope to educate residents about mask wearing in a similar way the city once educated residents about smoking in public.
“There is always a strong desire by your police department to protect and make the community feel safe,” he said. “The officers would prefer to have an educational component and the ability to engage the community in conversation as opposed to issuing a citation.”
In other news, the council unanimously approved the fiscal year 2021 recommendations for coronavirus response grants.
The senior community development programs specialist for the city, Elizabeth Stotts, presented the allocation breakdown. The city will receive $530,774 in funds, with $352,965 going toward rental assistance, $151,271 going toward public services and $26,538 going toward the administration.
The CEO of United Way, Steve Ortiz, said that they are looking to use the rental assistance fund to serve about 200 households in Santa Barbara depending on the maximum allocation per individual. As of now, the maximum is $1,000 per household, but Mr. Ortiz said they have proposed $1,500 to $2,000 because of the higher rent in the city.
The specific application for this grant money has not yet been uploaded to the United Way website, but residents can still apply now and be put on a waitlist. To learn more or apply, visit https://www.unitedwaysb.org/covid19.
Ms. Stotts added that the city does not yet know if there will be another round of block grant funds.
In addition, the council discussed at length the ordinance amending the AUD program. They passed a motion to approve the staff recommendations of density, building height, and open yard incorporating the following changes: density overlay in the CBD, building height to 48 feet, open yard including the rooftop compromise, parking unbundled and a maximum one space and removal of the 250 units trial period.