DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council approved funding Aug. 3 for at least one additional interim Sheriff’s deputy to expand enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders, especially mask-wearing.
“Getting the pandemic under control is the best thing that we can do to … help the economic recovery of our city [and] local businesses,” Mayor Ellie Haviland said at Monday’s council meeting. “It’s indisputable that public compliance with the county’s public health orders for face coverings would slow down the spread of COVID.”
Yet, despite city efforts to educate the public about health safety measures, many residents remain “concerned and fearful of the number of people not wearing masks,” she said.
“Our residents should be able to walk around their town without feeling afraid,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “Del Mar is a town of about 4,000 people, but on any given day, on average, there’s 20,000 to 25,000 people here … visiting from Arizona, from Texas, and various places that are just spiking out of control.”
Short of a vaccine, the best ways to fight COVID-19 “are to get people to wear masks and get them to honor social distancing,” he said. “What we need to do is change the culture. We need to get mask-wearing to be like putting your seatbelt on. Most people get in the car and they just put on the seatbelt, it’s second nature.”
Reinforcing this kind of culture for mask-wearing will pay “dividends when the situation just gets worse in the fall,” Haviland said.
To that end, by a 4 to 1 vote, the council authorized $20,000 to hire additional law enforcement personnel for a four-month period, from August to November. The city normally contracts only one full-time deputy from the county sheriff’s department.
The expanded policing footprint will provide what Worden called “the stick” to enforce all aspects of public health orders — especially mask-wearing, but also social distancing, businesses that shouldn’t be open, posting of notices in stores and restaurants, and so forth.
Failure to wear a mask constitutes a misdemeanor, carrying a fine up to $1,000 and imprisonment up to 90 days, as determined by a court.
Councilors reckoned extra law enforcement personnel are necessary because existing city staff, including lifeguards, aren’t adequately trained or authorized to issue citations or make arrests.
Sheriff’s Captain Herbert Taft said his deputies have so far issued 43 citations, mostly in Encinitas, only a couple in Del Mar. He supported the councilors’ move, but cautioned that a too “heavy-handed” approach could lead to increased “resistance and attention.”
“Deputies will be directed to educate first, to attain voluntary compliance and to reserve the issuance of citations for egregious violations or for those individuals who resist compliance,” City Manager C. J. Johnson said.
Deputies will focus on beach areas, Seagrove and Powerhouse Parks, and downtown between the Del Mar Civic Center and 15th Street.
In addition to $20,000 for extra law enforcement, the council approved $2,000 for additional signage instructing residents and visitors to wear masks and obey other health regulations. The city will pay the total $22,000 bill from its $125,000 COVID-19 Economic Uncertainty Reserve fund.
Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland cast the sole no vote, saying added signage would suffice. Also, increasing enforcement “could wind up backfiring and attracting COVID deniers” to protest in Del Mar, she said.
In a separate but related decision, the council voted unanimously to draft a letter asking the county health officer to make mask-wearing in public mandatory at all times.
Currently, the health order requires masks outdoors only when people can’t maintain 6-foot social distancing.
“Everybody, once they go outside their [private] property, should be wearing a mask, end of story, real simple, make it black and white,” said Councilman Dave Druker. “That makes it simpler for the sheriff and the police to be able to enforce it.”