Inyo County Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance on Tuesday to “discourage and penalize violations of orders pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
But while the Supervisors agreed to the potential enactment of civil penalties for violations, they declined to add a criminal component.
It was the prospect of an added criminal component which raised the ire of many local citizens.
One, Leon Beadle, promised recall petitions if the ordinance was approved as presented.
County Counsel Marshall Rudolph explained at the outset that the County did have the power to include a criminal component. According to California penal code section 836.5 (d): “The governing body of a local agency, by ordinance, may authorize its officers and employees who have the duty to enforce a statute or ordinance to arrest persons for violations of the statute or ordinance … “
The reason the Supervisors were contemplating this step (the potential empowerment of health department and other officials to issue criminal citations) is because Inyo County Sheriff Jeff Hollowell has stated he is reluctant to enforce some of the state health orders, which he believes are unconstitutional.
And as Inyo County Superior Court Judge Tom Hardy said on Tuesday, while state and county orders “can” be enforced by peace officers, enforcement is not required.
“Kinda like a speeding ticket,” chimed in Supervisor Jeff Griffiths. If they see you speeding, they can pull you over and ticket you. Or not.
But as Griffiths added, “The goal is to dissuade egregious offenders who are a danger to
public health. Civil penalties do give us a chance to go after offenders.”
The civil penalties in the ordinance call for up to $500 daily fines for individuals and $2,000 daily fines for commercial businesses.
The catch is, a person or business issued a notice of civil violation has the opportunity to “cure” that violation within twenty-four hours.
As Griffiths observed, a notice of civil violation would be fairly useless in a party situation, which tends to resolve itself within a few hours, unless there’s a Motley Crue reunion tour happening.
A principal reason Inyo Supervisors would prefer the Sheriff’s Department participate as a “partner” in health order enforcement is sheer optics. Sending a deputy to serve papers is a lot more powerful message than sending a building inspector.
But as Hollowell explained in a phone conversation this week, “Within reason, we’ll enforce the health orders, but we can’t enforce the mask order. If a person has an underlying medical condition, and they say they do, we can’t go further.” Pushing it further, opined Hollowell, would amount to an invasion of privacy.
“We can address them [those not wearing masks] from an educational perspective,” he said.
Hollowell said he wrote an email to County Counsel Rudolph this week in opposition to adding a criminal component to the urgency ordinance.He believes it would create major liability for the county to empower staff to issue criminal citations without extensive training.
The District Attorney had offered his office’s assistance if training were required.
Ultimately, the Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the civil component of the urgency ordinance and to toss the criminal component, which Supervisor Rick Pucci observed, “has contributed to most of the negativity around this.”
As citizen Craig Barrett said in his public comment (read by Assistant to the CAO Darcy Ellis), “People are under stress. They don’t need a further emergency order [to make them more stressed].”
In other Inyo/Bishop news …
Agricultural Commissioner Nathan Reade presented the 2019 crop report to Inyo Supervisors on Tuesday.
The total value of Inyo County’s Agricultural production was $22.9 million in 2019, up 7% year- over-year but still far below 2011-2013 numbers (approx. $27 million).
By category, livestock and livestock products was down 8%. Field crops were up 2%. But the biggest movers were nursery products (up $2 million, or 78%) and fruit and nut crops (up 84%).
Livestock and field crops make up 77% of the county’s total production, while nursery products account for 20%.
Mono County agricultural production value was up 1% in 2019 over 2018.
Bishop occupancy numbers
At Bishop City Council’s regular meeting on Monday, Bishop Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tawni Thomson made available Bishop’s transient occupancy numbers over the past three months.
May 2019: 69% May 2020: 38%
June 2019: 82% June 2020: 66%
July 2019: 86% July 2020: 71%
She said August, 2020 is tracking about 20 points down from 2019.
Updated flood maps
Edie Lohmann and Eric Simmons of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) spoke to both the Bishop Council and Inyo Supervisors this week regarding the update (first since 2011) of local flood maps.
The takeaway: In Bishop, if you live along Bishop Creek, particularly the south fork of Bishop Creek, the new maps, which go into effect in December, may require you to obtain flood insurance (if you don’t own your property outright).
Affected areas along Bishop Creek include Rome Drive, the J Diamond mobile park and the east side of Bishop.
As Lohmann said, “You may want to get flood insurance before the changes are implemented,” so you can get grandfathered in.
The new report can be accessed at https://msc.fema.gov or visit the city of Bishop’s website and find the report in the August 24 agenda packet.
No Allmon Joy
Jessica Allmon, Veteran Services Officer for Inyo and Mono Counties, has been dismissed from her position by Inyo County Sheriff Jeff Hollowell.
Allmon is appealing her termination.
Pete Peters, Commander of Bishop’s American Legion Post 118, Joe Davis, Commander of Big Pine’s American Legion Post 457 and Members of local VFW Post 8988 have all written letters in support of Allmon and against the closure of Bishop’s Veterans Service office.
Local calls are now being routed to Bakersfield.
As it’s a personnel matter, Sheriff Hollowell could not comment.
Ms. Allmon did not return calls for comment.
The fractured relationship between Hollowell and Allmon has been documented in previous Sheet stories in the February 15 and March 14 issues. Those stories can be accessed at www.thesheetnews.com.