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Manhattan Beach City Council To Review Mask Citation Order

Jul 22, 2020 10:53AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach City Council has agreed to review its mask order, which calls for citations and fines for those not wearing face coverings.

The emergency order has come under fire by some residents for being overly broad. 

Through action taken at its Tuesday night meeting, the council agreed to form an ad hoc subcommittee with Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Hadley and Council Member Nancy Hersman to review language of the ordinance.

The subcommittee is tasked with looking at language to specify that warnings will be given first, before citations, and to examine possible carve-outs for the rule, such as if a person is walking alone in their neighborhood.

Additionally, the council asked that the ordinance be clarified to show that the mask violation is an administrative citation, not a criminal misdemeanor.

Weekend Enforcement

Manhattan Beach Police Chief Derrick Abell reported that the city issued 21 mask citations on Saturday and 42 citations on Sunday. Enforcement officers gave out more than 1,200 warnings over the busy summer weekend, he said.

City officials said they were pleased with how the first weekend went with enforcement. The city hired CSC event staff to work alongside code enforcement officers and assist with giving out warnings (CSC staff do not have the authority to issue citations). 

Manhattan Beach City Manager Bruce Moe noted that the CSC is well known to the city as they provide security for many large events throughout the year. "They are very useful as a tool for us when we want to share information with the public, or when we want to keep things in order but don’t need full-blown enforcement from police. This weekend they paired up with code enforcement people. They were very skillful in their approach with residents," said Moe. "Things did go smoothly - we got a lot of positive comments."

Mayor Richard Montgomery noted that the enforcement teams were handing out blue disposable masks for those who didn't have them, although in many case people simply had masks around their neck or in their pockets and needed to be reminded to put them on. He said that people were generally given up to three warnings before a citation was issued.

Manhattan Beach is committed to its effort to "do the right thing" and get compliance with mask wearing to turn the case numbers back down, said Montgomery. "We’re trying to get that number down so we can open our schools, our restaurants. Governor Newsom is watching all of us. He wants to see that number go down. If I have to wear it to open our businesses in three weeks, I’ll wear it 24 hours a day."

Montgomery added: "We’re not the only city [with a mask enforcement ordinance]. They’re piling on behind us. And we’re on the low end with a $100 fine. Our residents and visitors, are well aware of it now. Isn’t that our goal - education?"

Costa Mesa has just instituted a $100 fine for not wearing masks. Along with Manhattan Beach, they join Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood in fining residents and visitors for not wearing masks.

Call For 'Common Sense'

Nevertheless, some council members said that although they support the mask order, they were surprised when they saw that the language of the order appeared to go beyond what even the county and state require. 

"I was literally shocked when the exact wording of this [order] came out," said Hadley. "I really think we have gone overboard. The lack of common sense exceptions erodes respect for law enforcement."

Council Member Steve Napolitano said that it needed to be more clear that the order would be enforced using common sense. He noted that people had been asking questions about extreme examples, such as whether they could get ticketed for not wearing a mask in a car, or for walking to their own mailbox.

"We need some balance of common sense so we get folks to understand what we’re doing here and why we should follow it. I don’t think people should be thinking about most extreme examples of enforcement," he said, adding that the city needed to clarify that it would be focusing on the most crowded areas of town.

However, Council Member Hildy Stern said that the broad wording made it perhaps easier to understand because the simplest rule is to wear a mask. "What is so clear in Manhattan Beach now is - you should be wearing a facial covering," she said. "It’s not creating lawbreakers. It’s creating an easy way to comply."

Council Member Nancy Hersman noted, "If you were walking down the street and you had it in your pocket, and then they warn you, and you put it on - we’re done. Then everybody’s wearing it...We’re going to be wearing masks for maybe the next year. This isn’t something we’re going to get over, so we might as well get used to it."

Clarifications to the ordinance and to enforcement that were made during the meeting include:
  • The ticket is an administrative citation, not a criminal misdemeanor, with no additional fees. It will not become part of a person's criminal record.
  • A person with a medical exemption may still get a citation, but those citations will be dismissed if a person is able to prove the medical exemption. City Attorney Quinn Barrow said that two citations from the weekend had already been dismissed because of medical exemptions.
  • CSC event staff do not have the ability to write citations; they are there to give warnings and provide support to code enforcement officers.
  • The mask requirement for singles tennis is a county-wide requirement;
  • Masks are required on the beach except during swimming, again, as a county-wide requirement.

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