LOS ANGELES, CA — Widely publicized mask protests at Los Angeles shopping centers backfired Wednesday when the Los Angeles City Council voted to pursue penalties for people who refuse to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. The council also voted unanimously to hold police and city staffers accountable for enforcement after months of "modest" enforcement efforts.
The motion directs the city attorney to draft an ordinance laying out repercussions such as fines for people who refuse to cover their faces or confront others without wearing face coverings. The motion, as amended by Councilman Mike Bonin, instructs the Los Angeles City Attorney to draft an ordinance to provide fines and penalties for refusing to wear a mask at an indoor public place when requested to do so by the facility's management or operators, and for those refusing to wear a mask while invading someone's personal space. An amendment by Councilman Paul Koretz aims to tackle the challenge of officers reluctant to enforce mask mandates.
Councilman Mike Bonin said he decided to pursue repercussions and more aggressive enforcement after watching anti-mask crowds storm the mall in Century City, confronting shoppers and employers last week.
"At the mall in Century City, crowds of maskless people came in, and they confronted employees, they confronted customers, they were asked to put on masks and they refused to," Bonin said. "We have other situations where people, maskless protesters, are going up to people, getting into people's faces and deliberately using the fact that they are not wearing a mask as an act of aggression."
Bonin's amendment was seconded by Koretz, who added his own amendment to the motion.
Koretz' amendment instructs departments within the Administrative Citation Enforcement program to prioritize issuing citations for mask violations to people who do not wear face coverings in public, and it requests a report within 30 days on the number of citations that have been issued, rate of compliance and ongoing challenges.
"It's my understanding that LAPD and Building and Safety and Street Services have been very modestly enforcing the mask mandate included in the mayor's March 19 safer-at-home executive order," Koretz said. "Given our current situation, we need to tackle this issue with renewed vigilance."
Koretz said it is time for Los Angeles to dramatically change how it enforces mask-wearing amid the pandemic.
"Widespread non-compliance is driving this unimaginable spread and there is no sign of slowing anytime soon. People who are alive and well right now, today, have a disastrously high risk of becoming infected -- or dying -- by Valentine's Day," he said. "So unless we are insane, we must change course immediately and dramatically. What are we waiting for?"
The original motion also requested reports within 30 days with information on requiring all city employees to wear masks at all times, including working outdoors, until the end of the COVID-19 crisis; and on equity program options for disadvantaged communities relative to the mask-wearing programs, along with a summary of recent research about the virus' transmission.
The chief legislative analyst was also instructed to work with the City Administrative Office, Economic Workforce and Development Department, and possibly the L.A. County Department of Public Health, on the development of a coordinated public information campaign with the county and state to encourage residents to wear masks.
The motion, with the two amendments, passed on a 14-0 vote, with one member absent.
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.