Photo by Austin Chan from Unsplash
The email landed within mere minutes of the Sacramento Board of Director’s County’s decisive and dramatic vote… to shelve the fines.
Supervisor Sue Frost was the first to let restaurant owners, advocates, and constituents know the coming winter may be cold but it won’t have to be cold and cruel.
At least not on their watch.
County Supervisors Vote In Favor: Put Fines On the Shelf
She explained how she came to her decision—during an emotional and at times audibly raucous County Board of Supervisors meeting; as protestors could be heard clamoring to “LET US IN!” from outside the building and chambers.
But not before first noting the ordinance was removed;
“…amid an avalanche of public opposition the likes of which I have never seen.”
Frost’s email went on to say;
While I fully agree that we all have to do our part to get through this pandemic, I believe imposing severe fines on business owners who are trying to keep afloat is a horrible way to do it.
In spite of the fact, there was largely no real ‘debate’ among board members regarding “The Why” in terms of urgency with regard to public health and safety—The How, The Who, and The When sparked more questions than answers as they discussed the ramifications of this urgent, red-hot ordinance.
The Deadly Numbers Game No One Enjoys Playing
Reports from Dr. Peter Bielson, county health chief, were solemn and grim — as at the time of the meeting Sacramento region's ICU capacity was on the precipice of falling below 15% meaning a COVID Stay-At-Home-Order could be heartbeats away for all non-essential small businesses and residents, again.
What was revealed through further discussion amongst county board members and the health chief and his staff were the fines were not only punitive but flawed to a great extent;
“…without the benefit of having a system that does not provide due process and a low to non-existent burden of proof for enforcement,” explained Supervisor Frost.
Board Chairman, Phil Serna agreed the withdrawal made sense given the staunch opposition.
I think this is the prudent thing to do in terms of sensitivity to trying to balance enforcement with limiting the virus transmission. Something as important as this deserves the time necessary to think it carefully through.
LET US IN! LET US IN! LET US IN!
In addition to the roar and din from protestors—a small group not only managed to make their way into the lobby but some found their way into chambers—disrupting the meeting for over an hour as Sheriff’s deputies escorted them away.
While the public is invited to attend Sacramento County Board meetings to address and air their perspective as citizens—in-person gatherings have been suspended for months to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus.
Peaceful protesters were allowed to remain in the lobby where they held a prayer circle.
Focus Forward: Outreach and Education First—Not Fines!
Public health department statistics released to date appear to reveal; private gatherings are the number one largest source of Coronavirus spread in our communities.
Restaurants, retail, gyms, and hair salons may be places of business where people congregate—however as long as ‘people’ are part of the equation ‘wherever people gather’ offers dangerous potential to spread the virus if ‘people’ aren’t wearing masks, ignoring social distancing, and behaving irresponsibly.
Supervisor Frost’s email concluded with a thoughtful review of the tools or ‘teeth’ the County already has on hand to maintain standards, as well as a much-welcome reset on how to move forward over the next few critical months;
The County already has enforcement tools that can be used to solve the problems being brought by the worst actors, such as using code enforcement, or in the most egregiously overt cases, using business license suspension or even cancellation. But the proposed ordinance was overly broad and exposed good actors to costly regulations.
I will continue to push for efforts to increase outreach and education to businesses so that we can work on gaining compliance with a helping hand, rather than with threatening policies.
For folks attending the County Board of Supervisors meeting and the hundreds of Sacramento entrepreneurs and citizens participating by televised remote and call-ins… the cheers as Item #36 was moved to the back-burner was both audible and joyful.
[This is a developing story.]