Sonoma Co. already enforcing mask fines, issues 4 citations

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Saturday, August 8, 2020
Sonoma Co. already issuing mask fines
Sonoma has now joined other Bay Area counties in saying it will write citations and issue fines for those not wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Sonoma has now joined other Bay Area counties in saying it will write citations and issue fines for those not wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

So many have ordinances, now, that we wondered whether such measures are working successfully.

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One could only assume that at places like Sax's Restaurant in Petaluma, they would help. Outside the main entrance, signs about wearing masks have not changed in weeks. No mask? No entry. After today, there are some teeth in them.

"We've been pretty strict about wearing the masks," owner Tiffany Meyers told us.

Now, she has help from Sonoma County, which will impose fines ranging from $100-dollars to $10-thousand for those caught not wearing those required masks.

"This is not to slap a fine on people and get out the ticket book. This is to deal with people who are straight-up jerks," said Supervisor James Gore. "Your right not to wear a mask is not more important than my mother's right to not be coughed on because she is at risk."

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Which led us to ask a question, How sharp are the teeth in those new county ordinances? The answers surprised us.

We checked across the Bay Area. Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland reported that they had not issued a single mask citation.

Nor have county sheriffs in Alameda, Napa, or Contra Costa counties.

Before today, Sonoma County had already issued four mask citations, but those were related to criminal activity.

In Marin County, the job of enforcing masks in restaurants landed on the desk of Deputy Environmental Health Director Rebecca Ng.

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Her program and others are not about active, on-the-spot enforcement. Instead, imagine a snitch line, with complaints arriving via emails or phone messages.

They are piled high on Rebecca's desk. Since July, she has received some 200 complaints.

"How many have you followed up on?" we asked.

"Not that many," she said.

As in, Rebecca's office issued a single citation.

Blame bureaucracy.

For a county to get 31 cities and towns on the same page is much the same as herding cats. In Marin and elsewhere across the bay area, cities, towns and counties disconnect on questions of how to enforce or how to appeal. "I hope we get voluntary compliance," said Rebecca. "We don't want to write any complaints."

Now, as Sonoma County vows to cite and fine, do not expect those punitive actions to happen overnight because, well, it's complicated.

The threat is a baring of county teeth.

The bite? That comes later.

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