Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Contra Costa Wrestles With How to Punish Businesses That Won’t Close

Contra Costa County officials have decided not to move ahead with plans to increase fines on the growing number of businesses in violation of the county’s stay-at-home orders.

Since November, Contra Costa has issued nearly 2,000 fines between $250 – $1,000, according to the district attorney’s office. But plans to increase the penalty drew heated criticism at a meeting Tuesday, both from the public and members of the county’s board of supervisors.

“I don’t want to see us raise any more fines,” said District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover. “But I do want to see some policy put in place for people that are not going to obey (the) rules.”

Glover suggested pulling permits for repeat violators as a more effective enforcement measure than higher fines. Meanwhile, owners of businesses like gyms and restaurants railed against the board for its failure to understand their desperate need to stay open. The meeting adjourned without a clear consensus on the issue.

At the meeting, county health officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said the risk of infection is higher indoors than outdoors, “but even outdoor gatherings can result in infections, particularly in locations where people remove their masks to eat food or drink,” theBay Area News Group reports.

“An outdoor restaurant is essentially a prolonged outdoor gathering of people who are not wearing masks. It includes several risk factors: extended times, being unmasked and being around lots of other people,” Farnitano said.

More than a dozen Danville restaurants have defied the order to shut down outdoor dining, with one owner filing a lawsuit against Contra Costa demanding the county disclose how it determines closures.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services Agency secretary, has said bans on outdoor dining are geared more at  discouraging people from gathering than a danger of transmission while patronizing restaurants.

—Chloe Veltman and Jon Brooks

Copyright 2020 KQED