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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 21st, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 34 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 34

County supervisors vote to target large gatherings with administrative fines

By Camillia Lanham

After a COVID-19 update on Oct. 20 discussing outbreaks in Isla Vista, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to pass an ordinance allowing the county to levy fines against large gatherings and businesses that don’t comply with public health orders. 

UC Santa Barbara issued an emergency notification on Oct. 16 stating that the university and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department had identified two separate clusters of positive COVID-19 cases in privately owned fraternity and sorority houses in Isla Vista. At the time of the notification, 13 individuals living in the separate houses had tested positive. 

During her Oct. 20 update to supervisors, county Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso didn’t state the total number of positive cases in Isla Vista related to the outbreaks, but county COVID-19 status reports indicate that at least 24 more Isla Vista residents tested positive between Oct. 17 and 19.

Do-Reynoso stated that the county and UCSB were collaborating to ramp up testing and education efforts in Isla Vista, as well as coordinating contact tracing in an effort to prevent the outbreaks from spreading. 

“It does seem likely that this outbreak is significant enough that it might affect our numbers,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said, referring to the county’s red tier status on the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. 

Although the county is still holding strong in the red tier category with 121 active cases, 12 hospitalized cases, and a positive case rate of 4.3 per 100,000 cases, the Isla Vista outbreaks won’t be reflected on the state’s Blueprint until Oct. 27. 

The college community figured prominently in the ordinance discussion that took place later in the supervisors’ meeting, with several UCSB students speaking in support of the proposed ordinance. 

“The majority of people here are following the rules, but the majority of people also want to have real consequences, not just more education,” said Jonathan Abboud, a Santa Barbara City College trustee and 10-year Isla Vista resident. “Just this month, we’ve had several reports of large parties, and the general feeling is that there have been no consequences.”

Office of Emergency Management Director Kelly Hubbard told supervisors that the county needed a middle ground for enforcement—somewhere between education and what 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann called “the nuclear option,” criminal enforcement or fines of at least $1,000. 

Administrative fines, Hubbard said, would be targeted at parties that exceed the number of people or households allowed under the public health order; businesses not complying with reopening guidelines, such as capacity limits or enforcement of protective measures; and large gatherings at beaches or parks. They would not be used for someone walking down the street without a mask on, she said. Penalties would range from $100 to $500, but Hubbard stated that education would still be the highest priority when it comes to enforcing public health orders. 

Both 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino voted against the ordinance, with Adam calling the measure “draconian.” He pointed out that the county successfully moved to a more liberal reopening tier, reducing COVID-19 numbers, with the regulations that are already in place. 

“COVID-19 has become a pretext for the government health care complex to institute a command-and-control scheme on the people of Santa Barbara County and elsewhere,” Adam said. “We are about to take the extreme action of authorizing the fining of citizens for their failure to submit to an unelected health officer’s order. In my view, this is an abdication of our sacred duty of elected officials to be guardians of freedom.”

Assistant County Executive Officer Barney Melekian told supervisors that enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders has been a balance between maintaining public health and individual liberty. Finding that balance, he said, “is proving to be a real line-walker for law enforcement.” 

The board majority—Hartmann, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, and Hart—voted for the ordinance as a way to push the county into a more liberal reopening tier (Santa Barbara County is in the second out of four) safely. 

“I share some of the ideals that the supervisor [Adam] is articulating, but it leads me to a different course of action,” Williams said. “Freedoms are contingent on reducing transmission. … Whether we agree with the state framework or are against it, that is the reality.” 

The first reading of the ordinance passed 3-2, with a second reading slated for the board’s Nov. 10 meeting. 

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