Government / Politics

Residents speak out as Hollister Council passes mask ordinance

Opponents of the new rule gather outside City Hall.
Few residents can attend meetings at City Hall because of COVID-19 restrictions. Photo by John Chadwell.
Few residents can attend meetings at City Hall because of COVID-19 restrictions. Photo by John Chadwell.
Amber Henderson said she does not appear to be sick, so she has been stopped for not wearing a mask. Photo by John Chadwell.
Amber Henderson said she does not appear to be sick, so she has been stopped for not wearing a mask. Photo by John Chadwell.
Councilwoman Honor Spencer said she was saddened by the public shaming of those opposed to the ordinance. File photo by John Chadwell.
Councilwoman Honor Spencer said she was saddened by the public shaming of those opposed to the ordinance. File photo by John Chadwell.

It was a foregone conclusion that the Sept. 21 Hollister City Council vote would be 3-1 in favor of requiring face coverings and incorporating a $100 citation per violation, as there had already been discussion and a preliminary vote on Sept. 8. Councilwoman Honor Spencer held out as the only vote against the ordinance, as she had done at the previous meeting. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez told BenitoLink the ordinance will go into effect 30 days from its passage.

What was different at the Sept. 21 meeting was the number of calls from the public asking that the resolution not only be removed from the agenda, but never be placed on it again.

As callers voiced their opposition via Zoom, cheering from a crowd outside City Hall in support of the callers could be heard inside the chambers.

Velazquez said individual calls would be limited to three minutes (as usual), and only 30 minutes would be allowed for a single topic. That number was exceeded as 25 callers voiced their concerns. Velazquez had to finally say no more calls would be taken. The last time this happened was during the tumultuous opposition to the introduction of the production and sale of cannabis in the city back in 2016.

Most callers said they opposed the ordinance out of common sense and a demand to open businesses downtown. Maureen Martin was in the council chambers and spoke from the podium. As the owner of Rootz Salon in San Juan Bautista, she said her place had been shut down since March 11, opened for a month, and was shut down again.

“We followed all the protocols and I just saw the signs in Spanish and English that they’re going to charge people $100,” she said. “I had four people in one day tell me they’re not going to come back to San Juan to do business with us. We’re just trying to work and this is diverting business from our cities.”

Patty Speirs reasoned the city was “bowing down to Gavin Newsom,” to get money from the state because of lost tax revenue. She said if businesses were to be allowed to open, taxes would be paid to the city and it would not be so dependent on the state.

“That’s what this is,” she said, “why he’s been so heavy-handed with his executive order pen to get people to comply under the guise of COVID. I haven’t seen an instance in a store in Hollister where someone was not wearing a mask. I don’t wear my mask outside, and it would be absolutely ridiculous if I got a ticket for $100.”

April Rael said masks give people a false sense of security. She said there are no federal or state laws, but only recommendations on wearing masks.

“We have all seen viral videos of people being verbally and physically attacked in stores,” she said. “What’s worse is that policing amongst civilians is being heavily encouraged on social media. Mandating masks and fines will only encourage this behavior.”

Ryan Jones said the ordinance is a violation of civil liberties and that the council needs to cease its “tyrannical behavior.” He said it would “perpetuate an unlawful order” and “create further division within our community.”

Susan Logue, Lauretta Avina and Kevin Barcellos spoke in favor of the mandate. Though Logue supported it, she asked that it be educational with no fine attached. Avina and Barcellos were dismissive of those who opposed it.

“They’re defying basic common sense mitigation for the pandemic,” Barcellos said. “The way to get businesses opened is by knocking down the virus in the community and the best way to do that is by everybody wearing masks. If you don’t have a mandate with some teeth in enforcement, the signal to the rest of the community is you’re not very serious about it.”

Avina said she was “taken aback” at the comments.

“I was shocked at the selfishness that I heard tonight,” she said. “This is a collective problem, a pandemic. For these people to say they have an underlying condition, the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] does permit a retailer to deny goods or services to an individual with a disability if their presence results in a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”

According to the National Law Review: “The ADA generally prohibits eligibility/screening criteria that tend to exclude individuals based on a disability, unless the criteria are necessary for the business to operate safely in providing its goods and services. Those requirements must be based on actual risks and may not be based on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about people with disabilities.”

Moments later, Amber Henderson spoke from the podium (without a mask) as she fought back tears. She said state law prevents discrimination and said it was “extremely difficult” getting into City Hall. She held up a medical alert band on her wrist and said it was not a watch, but a heart monitor.

“I want to know in this ordinance where is it written that there’s training [to identify people who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons],” she said.

As they did at the Sept. 8 meeting, Velazquez and Councilmembers Rolan Resendiz and Carol Lenoir stood by their previous votes and arguments in favor of the mandate. Spencer maintained her objections against it, but added that she was disappointed that some speakers shamed others.

“Just because they disagree with an opinion does not mean they’re selfish,” she said, adding that she is at high risk as a diabetic. She said she had been exposed to COVID-19 at least three times, including once in City Hall, and has yet to contract the virus.

“I’m not making light of a very serious situation, but I sat here and watched that woman [Henderson] as she walked into this building and was approached by two people to put her mask on,” she said. “She was almost in tears explaining her health problem. That is the problem I have with this ordinance. Granted, we can be outside, we can do whatever we want, [but] you’re going to have that one person who is going to call the cops and you’re going to be pulled over, even if you’re walking your dog. I’m very saddened of the shaming I heard tonight.”

 

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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.