Government / Politics

Final vote for Hollister mask ordinance set for Sept. 21

If approved, the city would join San Juan Bautista in having an enforceable resolution on the books.

On Sept. 8, the Hollister City Council approved in a 3-1 vote a resolution to move forward with an ordinance that requires face coverings and other public health measures backed up by penalties for violations, in accordance with the San Benito County Health Department. There will be a second reading and adoption of the ordinance on Sept. 21. Councilwoman Honor Spencer was the lone dissenting vote.

In approving the ordinance, Hollister will adopt the California Department of Public Health’s guidance for the use of face coverings to be enforceable by administrative citations.

Face coverings are required to be worn when:

  • Waiting in line to enter or inside an essential businesses, like a grocery store or pharmacy
  • Seeking health care
  • Waiting for or riding transit
  • Entering facilities allowed to operate under the state-at-home order, such as government buildings 

Face coverings are not required to be worn when:

  • At home
  • In your car alone or solely with members of your household
  • Exercising outdoors, like walking, hiking, bicycling, or running

However, when exercising, people are recommended to have a face covering with them and readily accessible, even if they’re not wearing it at that moment.

City Manager Brett Miller said even though the San Benito County Board of Supervisors did not pass its ordinance, the city was moving ahead with its own. He said it was important to let the public know that other cities and counties, including San Juan Bautista, had similar ordinances.

Beyond a $100 fine for each administrative citation, there is nothing in the ordinance that spells out how it will be enforced. Interim Hollister Police Chief Carlos Reynoso also told BenitoLink that he sees the enforcement of the ordinance as more of an education issue.

The ordinance does not address any fines or penalties on businesses.

Miller told BenitoLink that the ordinance is mainly to encourage people to cooperate with health guidelines. He said, though, that if a business continued to flout the ordinance it could mean the district attorney’s office would have to determine what action might be taken.

Four residents spoke against the ordinance during the public hearing on Sept. 8. Supervisor Peter Hernandez, who has been a vocal opponent of the restrictive orders coming from the San Benito County Public Health Services, said masks may slow the spread of the coronavirus, but they do not prevent the spread. 

“All it does is slow down the economy of the town,” Hernandez said. “Every day the numbers come out and they’re stable as far as recoveries. How are you going to know who’s exempt from wearing the masks and who’s not if they go into an establishment, and then you fine the establishment for somebody coming in without a mask?”

Vedana Freitas with the group Open SBC said there are a number of reasons to be opposed to wearing masks, including cultural reasons and conflicting messages from scientists. She said her biggest concern is getting businesses open because they will not be able to stay open much longer, especially if nothing has changed before winter sets in.  

Emily Scow claimed there were a lot of people in Hollister who did not realize a mask mandate was being discussed. She said the focus should be on opening downtown businesses that are “being killed” after working hard to bring business downtown. She said because of the smoke from recent fires that it’s unhealthy for patrons and restaurant employees to be outside.

Courtney Evans, another Open SBC member, said masks carry risks, including reducing oxygen intake and carbon dioxide, bacterial and fungal infections. And while the American Lung Association (ALA) says this is not true, it does say there is “some evidence that prolonged use of N-95 masks in patients with preexisting lung disease could cause some build-up of carbon dioxide levels in the body.”

Carol Lenoir, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year, seemed irritated that Scow said people didn’t know the mandate would be discussed.

“It’s in the paper, it’s out there on Facebook. People should have known this meeting was for this item, so I don’t buy it that people didn’t know. If you’re really interested, pay attention,” she said, adding that she had concerns about the city’s ability to enforce the ordinance.

Reynoso told BenitoLink the ordinance is another tool available for code enforcement and police for those who willfully disregard the mask requirement, while simultaneously ignoring social distancing guidelines. 

“However,” he said, “the police department will continue to emphasize education where needed and still rely on the trespassing laws when people refuse to wear a mask in locations where they are required and where social distancing is not possible.” 

Lenoir said she also spoke to a local doctor who told her the ordinance may reach too far, while adding that other unnamed health professionals believe the masks—along with distancing and stopping family gatherings—help reduce the spreading of COVID-19. She commented on the number of television commercials telling people to “do your part,” and said, “there’s a reason for that,” and “Kids are super spreaders. They bring everything home under the sun and don’t even know they have it. That’s scary for me: people walking around not knowing they have it.”

Wearing masks will help open the schools, Lenoir said, which are a higher priority to her than businesses. She said she would be willing to have a $100 fine, but was not in favor of escalating the penalty.  

Spencer said she would vote against the mandate because of the higher fines up to $500. Later, Lenior’s motion to approve the ordinance included an amendment to keep the fine at $100, and no subsequent fines of $200 and $500. She said it’s not her place to tell people to wear masks and won’t approach people without masks, even in stores, to tell them to put them on. 

“If grocery stores or a small business allows people to come in without masks, that’s on them,” Spencer said, “It shouldn’t be on us to mandate what they have to do. I do not want to put extra work on our police force, fire department or code enforcement. This ordinance is not a law. When I look at it, I see things that just don’t feel right. You’re creating dissention among neighbors.” 

Spencer repeatedly said the resolution, if passed, was an ordinance and not a law, however California law states orders from the public health officer are enforceable by local police agencies, and people who fail to comply may be charged with a misdemeanor. 

Councilman Rolan Resendiz said the issue frustrated him and that he was disappointed in the Board of Supervisors’ decision. He said they were “influenced by politics more than what the right thing to do is,” and there “needs to be consequences for not obeying the ordinance.” 

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez has backed wearing masks from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so much so that his reelection campaign paid to have 10,000 flyers mailed to the community promoting social distancing and wearing masks. He praised the San Juan Bautista City Council for approving a mask ordinance, and called them “the true leaders who did not hesitate for a moment to pass it. I’m highly appreciative of their leadership and disappointed in the county who were reluctant in taking the lead, especially when the health department is under their control.”

 

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.