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Coronavirus: Berkeley could become latest to issue fines for health order violations

Berkeley could become the latest Bay Area city to issue fines for violations of the COVID-19 public health orders that mandate masks and bar large gatherings.

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The city council is expected to vote Tuesday evening on the decision to install civil penalties starting at $100 per day, per violation and escalating up to $500 for both residents and businesses.

The order is designed to provide a mechanism to enforce the orders from the city’s health officer, which would otherwise come with a hefty misdemeanor penalty. The civil route allows for lighter fines and to avoid the lengthy court process, the city manager’s office wrote in its recommendation to the council, calling the measures currently in place “generally impracticable” and saying they “risk leading to the unnecessary criminalization of conduct that is more appropriately addressed through a civil remedy.”

A number of Bay Area counties have taken up similar orders, but the Alameda County Board of Supervisors has declined to do so.

In Berkeley, the number of large gatherings and mask scofflaws is too high to ignore, the city manager’s office said. Workers would still prioritize voluntary compliance over penalization, the order says, and fines can be waived for financial hardship.

If the council approves the measure, Berkeley will join the counties of Napa, Marin, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Sonoma in the Bay Area in instituting the fines.

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