Covid: With the spike in positive Covid tests, Council will debate a local vaccine mandate tonight. Matthew Hall

Santa Monicans ages 18 and up who have not yet received their full COVID-19 vaccination could soon face a barrier to indoor dining at area restaurants, working out at local gyms or partaking in other activities indoors in close proximity to strangers. That’s because Santa Monica City Council is set to discuss a potential COVID-19 vaccine mandate to cover a variety of indoor spaces when it meets on Tuesday evening, Jan. 11.

While LA County has been requiring proof of vaccination for indoor service at bars, breweries, clubs, lounges and wineries since October, there is no countywide vaccine requirement for restaurants, movie theaters or gyms. Meanwhile, the City of Los Angeles has required proof of full vaccination for indoor activities including restaurants, gyms, theaters and “personal care” establishments like salons since early November.

Up to this point, Santa Monica has not required proof of vaccination outside what is required under county rules. If council votes to enact the proposed mandate, the City Manager would have up until Feb. 8 to implement an executive order or return to council with an emergency ordinance for final approval.

Speaking to the Daily Press on Monday, Mayor Sue Himmelrich said the proposed ordinance would look similar to the vaccine mandate currently in place in neighboring LA.

“We’ve been looking at whether what they did in LA would really make a difference for the City of Santa Monica in terms of protecting its residents,” Himmelrich said, later adding, “We’re surrounded on three sides by LA and the fourth side by the ocean, so we do pay attention to what LA does. Sometimes it’s to our benefit to be consistent and sometimes not — it depends on what the program and policy is, and in this case we’re looking at LA because it is on all three sides.”

Himmelrich was one of three council members who requested the item be placed on the Tuesday agenda; the others were Phil Brock and Christine Parra.

According to Brock, the proximity to Los Angeles had another consequence for Santa Monica: making the city a magnet for unvaccinated Angelenos to dine indoors.

“The continuing worry among residents who have been vaccinated — and Santa Monica is one of the highest vaccinated cities in the state of California — is that people who have not been vaccinated are meandering over our borders to have dinner here, because we’re not asking for proof of vaccination,” Brock said. “Some of our residents are saying they will not eat in Santa Monica unless it’s at one of the high-price restaurants that ask for proof.”

The agenda item for the vaccine mandate discussion outlined the proposed scope of the ordinance: “…At a minimum, this mandate should consist of the following:

-A date certain by which all employees of certain indoor facilities be fully vaccinated and show proof of full vaccination to their employer.

-A date certain by which all persons 18 years and older are required to show proof that they are fully vaccinated to enter certain indoor facilities and certain indoor City facilities.

-Unvaccinated patrons without a negative COVID-19 test may go inside briefly to order food or use the bathroom while wearing a surgical or N-95 mask.”

Whether “fully vaccinated” includes a booster shot is up for discussion, both Himmelrich and Brock said in separate conversations with the Daily Press on Monday, but neither believed that stipulation would be approved.

“I would love to see that [a booster requirement] but I know that I also have an obligation to be realistic and use common sense,” Brock said.

Himmelrich said she would be in support of that requirement as well, but did not feel there was broad support for the move across the seven-member city council.

“I think that under the current circumstances it should include a booster [requirement] — but that would be my personal opinion. It takes seven votes to pass it,” Himmelrich said.

Himmelrich and Brock also said they believed the move had support from the business community; the mayor had not received any complaints or concerns from stakeholders about the proposed mandate since the item appeared on the council agenda on Jan. 7, while Brock said he had received one email urging against the move.

Himmelrich said she encouraged members of the public with concerns to reach out or speak up during the Tuesday hearing.

“If they have reasons for being opposed to it, and actual data supporting those reasons, they should write to us or appear at the city council meeting and verbalize those reasons,” Himmelrich said. “That’s why we’re doing it publicly, so that people can say if they object or say if they support. I encourage public input on all of these points, because we are trying to listen.”

As of the latest data available from LA County, about 70,400 of Santa Monica’s 84,350 residents ages 12 and up — 83.5 percent — were fully vaccinated (though another 7,000 residents received their first dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and did not yet return for their second). Local rates of booster doses, which began to be available in August with wide availability by November, were much lower: just 35,700 Santa Monica residents, or 42.3 percent of the 12-and-over population, had been boosted.

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