California county OKs legal enforcement of health orders

Police can have water, power shut off to houses and businesses that fail comply with orders

California county OKs legal enforcement of health orders
Leaders in one California county have approved the use of restraining orders and other enforcement actions against individuals and businesses who refuse to comply with orders to control the spread of the coronavirus. (Source: Paul Zoeller)

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) - Ventura County leaders have approved the use of restraining orders and other enforcement actions against individuals and businesses who refuse to comply with local and state health orders to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision at a special meeting Tuesday of the Board of Supervisors gave County Counsel Leroy Smith discretion to seek court enforcement of health mandates, the Ventura County Star reported.

Smith told the newspaper that the nature of any orders and the identities of the parties involved would only be released after litigation is filed.

Meanwhile in neighboring Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a crackdown Wednesday on house parties that have brought hundreds of people together despite health orders banning large gatherings.

Beginning Friday night, police can ask the city’s Department of Water and Power to shut off service to houses and businesses hosting parties within 48 hours.

With bars closed in town, “these large house parties have essentially become nightclubs in the hills” and they can become “superspreaders” of COVID-19, Garcetti said.

Garcetti specifically mentioned a gathering Monday night at a mansion where hundreds of people gathered without masks or social distancing. The party ended in a shooting that killed a woman and wounded two other people.

The Ventura County supervisors met days after the pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park said he would continue holding indoor services despite restrictions on large gatherings.

Pastor Rob McCoy previously said he was willing to go to jail or have the church building seized rather than obey the rules, which he called “draconian,” according to the Star.

Last Sunday, several hundred people gathered at McCoy’s church for a morning service. The Star reported few worshipers wore masks or observed social distancing, as required by public health orders.

Under a county order mandated by the state, effective July 14, worship services can only be held outside.

McCoy could not be reached for comment by the newspaper after Tuesday’s 3-2 decision by the elected board.

To the south, prosecutors in San Diego charged a gym owner with five misdemeanors for operating during the state’s shutdown orders, the Union-Tribune reported this week.

Peter San Nicolas, owner of Ramona Fitness Center, told the newspaper he had to stay open or risk going out of business.

Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors “understand and sympathize with the significant hardship” placed on businesses by the shutdown orders.

“But public health orders are in place to safeguard the health of everyone in our community amid this deadly pandemic,” Sierra said in a statement. “Along with our law enforcement partners, we work with businesses to give them opportunities to achieve voluntary compliance. But when the public health order is ignored and the law is broken, the public’s health is at risk and we will file charges.”

Other referrals to prosecutors for criminal charges against San Diego area business owners are pending, the newspaper said.

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