Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz called Wednesday for the city to issue financial penalties to those who fail to wear masks in public — starting with $100 for the first violation.
Koretz, who represents a district stretching from the Westside north to Encino, wants his colleagues to approve an ordinance imposing an escalating series of fines for those who fail to comply with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s three-month-old emergency mask order.
Under the proposal, those who are caught in public without a face covering a second time would be fined $250. A third violation would cost $500.
Such strict enforcement is needed in L.A., Koretz said, because many Angelenos still aren’t taking the risks of contracting coronavirus seriously.
“At this point, it seems that issuing tickets might be the only way to save more lives,” he said in a statement. “The soft consequence of a ticket might be the key to avoid the very dangerous consequences of contracting COVID-19. Such a modest act would save thousands of lives and move us toward controlling this epidemic.”
Koretz’s motion was drafted one day after a high-level California health official said widespread mask wearing could cut coronavirus transmission in half.
“Some studies show that, if we had 80% compliance with masking, that we can reduce transmission somewhere between 50% and 60%, which is tremendous,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary.
On June 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered California residents to wear face coverings while in public or in high-risk settings. However, enforcement has been largely left up to local jurisdictions.
Koretz has pushed previously for a more aggressive approach to the city’s mask order but failed to gain traction, with some of his colleagues warning that enforcement by the Los Angeles Police Department could disproportionately affect Black and Latino residents. Anti-poverty advocates have warned that homeless residents would have difficulty obtaining masks, unless government agencies and nonprofit organizations distributed them widely for free.
Pastor Kathy Huck, executive director of About My Father’s Business, a homeless outreach ministry that serves the west San Fernando Valley, said city leaders should focus their efforts on getting face coverings, hand sanitizer and other medical supplies to low-income Angelenos — not new penalties.
Huck said she had spoken to one homeless person who was kicked out of a pharmacy for not wearing a mask, even though he was trying to buy some.
The penalty proposal is “just another notch in the belt for how we criminalize the poorest among us, and it’s not fair,” she said. “Instead of fining them, let’s find them the masks. Let’s find them the PPE.”
Garcetti said earlier this year that he was not looking to have people arrested and fined for failing to comply with his order. The LAPD has avoided punishing people for flouting mask rules so far, and some in law enforcement circles are wary of relying on officers to take on such a task when activists are demanding fewer interactions with police and the public.
Police Chief Michel Moore told the civilian police commission this week that the LAPD has procured 50,000 masks for its officers to hand out when they encounter people who are without masks.
Times Staff Writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report