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Missing a mask? One L.A. politician is ready to fine you $100

People wearing masks in downtown L.A. last month.
L.A. residents who go maskless could face an escalating system of fines under a proposal unveiled Wednesday.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz called Wednesday for the city to issue financial penalties to those who fail to wear masks in public — starting with $100 for the first violation.

Koretz, who represents a district stretching from the Westside north to Encino, wants the council to impose a series of escalating fines for those who fail to comply with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s three-month-old emergency mask order.

Under the proposal, those who are caught in public without a face covering a second time would be fined $250. A third violation would cost $500.

If Koretz’s colleagues sign on to the proposal, L.A. would join other Southern California cities who have already adopted financial penalties, including Manhattan Beach, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

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Such strict enforcement is needed in L.A., Koretz said, because many Angelenos still aren’t taking the city’s mask order seriously.

“At this point, it seems that issuing tickets might be the only way to save more lives,” he said in a statement. “The soft consequence of a ticket might be the key to avoid the very dangerous consequences of contracting COVID-19. Such a modest act would save thousands of lives and move us toward controlling this epidemic.”

Along with hand-washing and physical distancing, Dr. Mark Ghaly said wearing masks “is increasingly one of those powerful tools” to combat COVID-19.

Koretz’s proposal does not specify which city agency would be in charge of issuing tickets. He released it a day
after a high-level California health official said widespread mask wearing could cut coronavirus transmission in half.

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“Some studies show that, if we had 80% compliance with masking, that we can reduce transmission somewhere between 50% and 60%, which is tremendous,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary.

On June 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered California residents to wear face coverings while in public or in high-risk settings. However, enforcement has been largely left up to local elected officials.

Garcetti, who frequently talks up L.A.'s early emphasis on face coverings, said he does not support Koretz’s proposal at this point — but would be willing to take another look if COVID-19 cases increase significantly. A $100 penalty could be “pretty devastating” for some residents, he said.

“That’s a pretty steep ticket for folks that are struggling right now and don’t know if they’re going to have unemployment,” the mayor said. “I don’t see that as the best way to move forward. I want to still keep pushing on education.”

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Koretz has pushed previously for the city to take a more aggressive approach to its mask order. But he failed to gain traction, with some of his colleagues warning that enforcement by the Los Angeles Police Department could disproportionately affect Black and Latino residents.

Anti-poverty advocates also have warned that homeless residents would have difficulty complying unless government agencies and nonprofit organizations widely distributed masks for free.

Pastor Kathy Huck, executive director of About My Father’s Business, a homeless outreach ministry that serves the west San Fernando Valley, said city leaders should focus their efforts on providing face coverings, hand sanitizer and other medical supplies to low-income Angelenos — not new penalties.

Huck said she had spoken to one homeless person who was kicked out of a Canoga Park pharmacy for not wearing a mask, even though he was trying to buy some at the time.

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The penalty proposal is “just another notch in the belt for how we criminalize the poorest among us, and it’s not fair,” she said. “Instead of fining them, let’s find them the masks. Let’s find them the PPE.”

The LAPD has avoided punishing people for flouting mask rules so far, and some in law enforcement are wary of relying on officers to take on such a task, particularly when activists are demanding fewer interactions with police and the public.

Police Chief Michel Moore told the civilian police commission this week that the LAPD has procured 50,000 masks for its officers to hand out when they encounter people who are without masks. Garcetti said such activities, not just by police but by various other city workers, would be preferable to tickets or fines.

“I don’t think our police officers want to become the mask police,” he said.

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Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report


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