SOLEDAD — Soledad City Council members met in a special meeting on July 29 to ratify the new municipal order that can fine people for not wearing masks in an effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
The ordinance began as an executive order issued by Interim City Manager Brent Slama two weeks ago.
Ratification happened with a 4-0 vote of those council members present, Mayor Fred Ledesma, Mayor Pro Tempore Alejandro Chavez and Council Members Carla Strobridge Stewart and Marisela Lara.
“We’re very concerned with what’s happening and how people still seem to not be listening,” Ledesma said about the urgency of the ordinance. He noted the need for the county sheriff and local police departments to do PSAs letting the community know about the possibility of getting cited throughout the county due to similar ordinances going into effect.
Chief Damon Wasson said Soledad Police Department has printed 1,000 warning citations, but had only issued one after the executive order went into affect.
“We’re going to hopefully issue warning cites, do a little education, and people will come into compliance on this,” Wasson said.
The chief explained the first step by police would be warnings, education and direction.
“If there were repeat offenders or blatant outright disregard, then we would take it to the next level,” he said. “We aren’t going to run out and start issuing cites.”
Lara voiced her concerns over the penalty portion of the new law.
“In terms of this specific item, I think $100, $500 and $1,000 seems high,” she said. “I know that there’s a concern for public health.”
Lara brought up an example of someone being in a rush to run errands and forgetting masks, who then has to make the decision to either turn around and head home or risk being cited. She also asked if groups would be cited as a family or as individuals.
“There’s no such thing as a group citation,” said City Attorney Michael Rodriquez. “Individuals who do not have a mask on would be cited individually. That could be an expensive outing for a family if they’re not wearing masks.”
“I think the first step should be a warning, the second step should be $50 or $100,” Lara said.
Ledesma said he felt opposite, that there have been enough warnings.
“We need to start citing people,” he said. “We can have 1,000 warnings and numbers are still going up. What do we tell the person that gets hospitalized? … We need to really be firm about putting teeth in this.”
The penalty amounts remained as stated, and Wasson did clarify warnings would be the first step.
Stewart asked about the city’s supply of masks to help with prevention efforts.
“Do we have disposable masks we can distribute if someone indicates they can’t afford to buy one?” she asked.
Slama answered, “We have a significant quantity here. We can certainly look into doing that. I know other agencies are doing that.”
As the council moved ahead with the item, Stewart reminded that it is important for police officers to also wear their masks at all times.