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Costa Mesa threatens $100 fines for not wearing masks in public

Shoppers walk out of a Sprouts market in Costa Mesa on Monday.
Shoppers walk out of a Sprouts market July 20 in Costa Mesa. People face a $100 fine for not wearing a mask in public in the city.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

Costa Mesa is engaging in a campaign to remind people who go out in public without masks that they could be cited and fined, although skeptical citizens are challenging the city’s authority and, in at least one case, calling its bluff.

Officials spread the word Saturday on the city’s Facebook and Twitter pages that anyone caught in public without a facial covering would be subject to a $100 fine.

“Don’t face a fine. Wear a mask,” read one tweet posted Saturday. “Wearing a facial covering in public is the Law. No Face Mask = $100 Fine.”

Requiring facial coverings in public was one of several orders issued during a local coronavirus emergency declared March 12 by City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, acting as the city’s director of emergency services.

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State and local government codes grant governors and city managers, respectively, the authority to issue orders during a declared emergency intended to have the force and effect of law.

Further, enforcement provisions of Costa Mesa’s municipal code pertaining to disaster relief state it is a misdemeanor offense to “do any act forbidden by any lawful rule or regulation issued pursuant to this title, if such act is of such a nature as to give or be likely to give assistance to the enemy or to imperil the lives or property of inhabitants of this city, or to prevent, hinder or delay the defense or protection thereof.”

But while face masks have technically been mandatory for more than three months, it wasn’t until this weekend’s campaign that fines for offenders took center stage. City spokesman Tony Dodero on Monday likened the order to city rules prohibiting illegal fireworks.

“We can fine people up to $1,000 for that, but we typically don’t if they’re a first-time offender,” he said. “A lot of times, we don’t fine them, we say, ‘Fireworks are illegal here; knock it off.’ ”

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There are loud and persistent calls for Californians to wear masks when out in public, but so far enforcement of the mandate is modest at best.

Dodero attributed the awareness effort to a surge in the number of cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks that put Orange County, and 32 other California counties, on a state monitoring list.

“We went from being one of those cities that was allowed to open and continue opening, beyond Phase 2 and into Phase 3 — and now we’re on the watch list,” he said. “It was just a reminder to people, because of the spike in cases, that wearing a mask is the way out of this.”

So far, the idea of bare-faced citizens racking up fines is eliciting a mixed response among residents. Some praised the move, while others posted on Facebook with open challenges to city officials and the Costa Mesa Police Department, the agency authorized to enforce the order.

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Tom Carroll, 35, went to a local bagel shop and posted a photograph of himself without a mask on a Costa Mesa public forum page.

“Currently sitting at Shirley’s Bagels on 17th street with no mask with 2 other people ... $300 in fines up for grabs for the city if they want to send the cops out to fine us,” he wrote.

West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Monterey have announced plans to fine people who don’t cover their faces to protect against COVID-19.

The Costa Mesa resident said state guidelines regarding mask wearing appear to put forth recommendations, rather than imposing rules, and exempt those who cannot wear masks due to respiratory problems and issues with claustrophobia.

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Until a business or individual can explain how they plan to accommodate those exemptions under the city’s regulation, Carroll says he will continue to challenge the local orders.

“I was trying to incite someone to report me to someone from the city to give me a ticket. I want to have a discussion with the authority who’s going to write me a ticket and talk about those exemptions,” he said. “I got a couple of dirty looks from people, but no one said anything.”

Costa Mesa Police Chief Bryan Glass would not speak in an interview but said while department staff have been trained on mask regulations and how to respond to such calls, no citations or fines have been issued.

“At the onset of the pandemic and orders, the focus was education and voluntary compliance which has been seen throughout the city,” Glass said. “At this point during the pandemic, the department will take enforcement actions on blatant violations in general of the orders.”

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Cardine writes for Times Community News.


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