Costa Mesa pulls strings on a mask mandate that caused controversy but netted few citations

A sign on a street says "No mask = $100 fine"
A sign posted in November 2020 along Fair Drive warns residents and visitors of a mask mandate in Costa Mesa. City lawmakers this week repealed the mandate.
(Times Community News )

A mandate requiring facial coverings for all who enter Costa Mesa — in place for more than a year and fuel for frequent debates between pandemic rule followers and anti-maskers — was repealed this week in favor of less strict state guidelines.

City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison imposed the measure in April 2020 to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus after declaring a local state of emergency. In a social media campaign last summer, signs warning “No Mask = $100 Fine” inspired some residents to post bare-faced photos in a dare to police.

While members of the city’s code enforcement team regularly cited businesses, including some individuals inside those establishments, for failing to comply with the order, such transgressions netted few citations by the Costa Mesa Police Department.


Aside from the Nov. 17 arrest of a man who reportedly entered a grocery store in the 1800 block of Newport Boulevard without a mask and became confrontational with police officers, only one other citation was issued by police.

Police Department spokeswoman Roxi Fyad confirmed a citation was issued in September at a location in the 400 block of Fair Drive, after a person entered a business complex without a facial covering. City staff could not provide details Wednesday on the total number of businesses cited by code enforcement officers during the pandemic.

Farrell Harrison told City Council members Tuesday that while the mask mandate was a bold move made to protect residents, recent downward virus trends and changes in health recommendations made in advance of a complete reopening of California businesses on June 15 made it an appropriate time to consider amending the order.

“With the easing of the restrictions that all are accompanying the reopening of the economy, we wanted just to revise our mask mandate so that we’re consistent with the state,” she said.

Residents will now be advised to follow recommendations put forth by the California Department of Public Health. As such, fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear facial coverings in most situations starting June 15.

Unvaccinated residents will be asked to wear masks outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained and in indoor settings outside of their own homes, according to state guidelines.

Councilman Manuel Chavez looked back on the necessity of imposing a mask mandate during a global crisis and found in its repeal a fitting bookend.

“We were one of the first cities to push for a mask mandate, because we care about the citizens of Costa Mesa and were doing our best to ensure everyone’s safety. [And now], we’re going back to normalcy, or as normal as we can be,” he said.

Cardine writes for Times Community News.