Photo by Matthew Hall

Santa Monica police have not cited any members of the public for not wearing masks since the city started requiring people to wear masks outdoors earlier this month.

Lt. Joseph Cortez, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Police Department, said the department has not issued a citation for violating an order that Interim City Manager Lane Dilg signed May 14 requiring people to don a face covering upon leaving their homes.

Cortez said the department is encouraging community members to comply with the order rather than ticketing them.

A Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson also said that officers have been instructed to use citations only as a last resort.

SMPD has taken the same approach in dealing with large gatherings of people, such as the crowds that for the last several weeks have been gathering on the lawn outside The Victorian, an events space on Main Street that houses two bars.

Cortez said SMPD had deployed its compliance unit and neighborhood resource officers to the business to work with them on regulating the amount of people in the area.

City spokesperson Constance Farrell said the city’s code enforcement division has worked with the Victorian and the adjacent California Heritage Museum to add circles to the lawn to ensure appropriate distancing.

“The city will continue to monitor the situation and will take additional action, if necessary,” Farrell said. “It is our hope that all residents join in the effort to reopen Santa Monica by maintaining six feet of distance from others outside your household and wearing face coverings. As always, drinking in public is against the law.”

Before May 14, Santa Monica only required people to wear masks while working at or visiting an essential business.

Now, in alignment with orders issued by Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles, people must wear face coverings whenever they leave their homes — even if they are not close to other people or are exercising. The order is in effect until the end of June, but may be extended.

The only exceptions made are for people with disabilities that make it difficult to wear a mask, children under two and people exercising in the water.

Public health officials say masks and physical distancing are critical to contain the spread of coronavirus, as they prevent asymptomatic people from infecting others and also offer wearers some protection from infectious droplets.

Cloth masks are less effective than surgical masks or N95 respirators, but the public has been instructed not to purchase medical-grade masks in order to ensure that healthcare workers have an adequate supply.

Los Angeles County will have to keep its infection rate below 1 for the number of cases to decline, which would allow officials to let more types of businesses and public spaces reopen by July 4.

An infection rate of 1 means that every person with coronavirus is infecting one other person. The county’s infection rate is slightly less than 1, officials said last week.

Dilg, Santa Monica’s interim city manager, said during a virtual town hall last week that SMPD officers have the authority to cite people for not wearing masks and that they would likely issue some citations. But it would be unrealistic to cite thousands of people, Dilg added.

Some residents believe the city isn’t going far enough to ensure that people comply with orders to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing.

Daniel Curran, whose mother contracted coronavirus in a nursing home, said he thinks police should cite people not wearing masks and hand out paper masks to those without them.

“They should be on foot patrol from Palisades Park to the water,” he said. “I only see them driving around, which is ineffective.”

The city’s code enforcement division is still issuing citations or stop work orders to businesses and construction sites that fail to comply with public health orders. A $100 or $500 fine is attached to each citation.

Fifty of the 65 workers the city of Santa Monica cited last month for violating public health orders were construction workers, according to public records.

This story was updated May 27 at 2:27 p.m.

madeleine@smdp.com

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4 Comments

  1. Police need to enforce this and issue fines and citations. At Euclid Park which is next to group community home on its property people are exercising on the fitness equipment and not wearing masks. This puts the group home and other members of the public at risk. Seems to be an easy way to earn city revenue if we are so broke – fine these out of towners and people who flout the County order. Redirect the parking enforcement employees to drive around and issue citations. Keep people employed in the process.

  2. When the beach was “closed”, there was great avidity among the police and lifeguards to kick solitary walkers or runners off, even though they posed no public health threat. Now that the apparent majority is violating the mask ordinance, an officer I encountered said dealing with those violations would be “like using my hand to hold back a tsunami”. Lesson to be taken: If enough people violate the law, there is no law.

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