Last week the Turlock City Council unanimously adopted an urgency ordinance that allows the city to issue administrative fines for anyone violating the shelter-in-place orders given by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Stanislaus County Health Officer to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra pledged that the same action will not take place in Ceres.
“It’s kind of shocking they went that far,” said Vierra. “We’re not doing that in Ceres, I can tell you that.”
Turlock businesses and individuals not abiding by the shelter-in-place orders regarding the coronavirus pandemic could now be subject to fines. Fines are $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third or subsequent violations.
The ordinance allows the city to have a noncriminal form of remedy for people who violate any kind of county, state or federal orders related to COVID-19 specifically and would be in effect for as long as there are shelter-in-place orders because of the current pandemic. This would pertain to anyone who operates or patronizes a “nonessential” business, or gather in groups in violation of the social distancing order.
“Some of the mayors are talking, saying, ‘Well, okay, what are they going to do? Throw us all in jail?’” said Vierra. “And does constitutionally the governor really have the ability to have an executive order that shelters people in place? And he’s talking he’s not going to let people know what he’s going to do for another couple of weeks and a lot of people are saying we don’t have a couple of weeks.”
There is growing unrest among citizens who demand the governor rescind his orders for the sake of the state’s economy. Vierra noted that San Luis Obispo County officials fired off a letter to Newsom asking him to okay local leaders implementing their own phased reopening plan that would allow some residents to return to work and local businesses to reopen. Among those agreeing was Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo. The letter forecast “a prolonged recession is likely and becomes likelier each day we keep workers from making a living.”
Vierra said he recoils at actions similar to the ones.
I said sitting on the Valley Air Board has given him a perspective that bureaucrats continue to push for more and more control over people. He said “there’s more to this than Covid-19.”
“Given and left to their own device, there will always be a fraction of people out there…who always want to control everything (saying) ‘we want clean air’ even if it means nobody can drive, we can’t farm and anything else.”
Vierra said the Turlock council is “just asking for problems,” adding “why would you even go there?”
Apparently the agenda item voted on in Turlock came from Turlock city attorney Doug White who is from the law firm of Churchwell White LLP – the same firm that supplies legal services to the Ceres City Council through Tom Hallinan.
White told the Turlock council: “These fine levels we have advocated for are significantly lower than other jurisdictions who have adopted fine schedules are adopting…most fine systems are going straight to a $1,000 fine per incident and being used a lot in cases where facial coverings are being required. We are not advocating that because we’ve had a good relationship with the citizens and we’ve had a good level of compliance. So, it’s just a tool.”
Sworn and non-sworn police department and fire department officials, as designated by the police and fire chiefs, are authorized to issue administrative citations.
Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar said the fines would only be given after a business and/or resident was warned that they are violating shelter-in-place orders.
“We have been utilizing educational processes throughout the city and it has been working excellently. I really do not intend to, nor do I want to, issue these types of citations. But it is a tool to utilize these types of administrative cites and before we do such, we will try to gain compliance always,” said Amirfar.
Councilwoman Becky Arellano called for consistency when applying the shelter-in-place orders as it pertains to what are essential businesses. She gave an example of a local landscaper who was told he could not continue mowing a lawn when down the street six City of Turlock workers were working on a median landscape strip and not social distancing.
“We need to be clear that we’re following the policies that we’re implementing as well throughout the City,” said Arellano.
A list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” as determined by the State Public Health Officer was included in the City Council agenda packet for reference. The list includes healthcare workers, public safety workers, public works employees, workers in food and agricultural sectors, energy sector employees, water and wastewater workers, transportation and logistics workers, communications and information technology, critical manufacturing, community-based government operations and essential functions, hazardous materials workers, chemical sector employees, defense industrial base sectors and those in financial services.
Kristina Hacker contributed to this article.