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Turlock keeps health order noncompliance fines
Turlock businesses that open in violation of the Stanislaus County and State of California health orders continue to be subject to noncompliance fines. Despite being in defiance of State orders, Yonan’s is mitigating the possible spread of the virus by implementing social distancing, employees wearing face coverings and sanitation efforts (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Businesses and residents in Turlock that opt to ignore public health orders are still subject to fines, as a motion to lower or eliminate the fines was not passed by the Turlock City Council on Tuesday.

The Turlock City Council unanimously approved Ordinance No. 1277-CS on April 14, adopting the Governor’s Executive Order and the County Health Order with a mechanism for enforcement by the issuance of fines through an administrative citation. The fines adopted were $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation and $1,000 for the third and any subsequent violations.

During the April Council meeting, Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar said the administrative fines would only be used after a business and/or resident was warned that they are violating shelter-in-place orders.

“We have been utilizing educational processes throughout the city and it has been working excellently. I really do not intend to, nor do I want to, issue these types of citations. But it is a tool to utilize these types of administrative cites and before we do such, we will try to gain compliance always,” said Amirfar on April 14.

On Tuesday, the Council revisited the health order noncompliance fine schedule at Mayor Amy Bublak’s request.

“We have to be mindful that these people are desperate to get money to put food on the table for their family. So, all I’m asking is that we look at things like this and not get completely wrapped up in all this emotion and say ‘you know what, we should be educating.’ The whole point of any administrative citation is to gain compliance and that’s all we’ve done thus far. We don’t need to have this hanging over someone like we’re going to be making a bunch of money; that’s not the point,” Bublak said.

Vice Mayor Andrew Nosrati said that he doesn’t think it’s in the community’s best interest to rescind the health order noncompliance fines because of pressure from what he called extremists.

“The message we’re sending is my greatest concern,” said Nosrati. 

The Vice Mayor went on to question the Mayor on why she would put the item on the agenda knowing that her colleagues were not in support of rescinding the fines.

“Times are different now. All we want to do is gain compliance,” said Bublak.

The Mayor said she wants the health order fines to be more in line with other administrative fines, like the city’s water wasting fines that include education classes for first offenders and then fines under $100.

Council member Nicole Larson said it didn’t make sense to rescind the health order fines when the city and county are seeing an increase in the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 related deaths.

“When we’re talking about communication, I think it’s more damaging for our communication efforts if we’re going back and forth on the only teeth we really have for keeping these businesses in compliance for the safety of the public,” Larson said.

She also noted that there are education efforts that happen before any fines are enacted.

As of Tuesday, there have not been any businesses or residents that have been fined for violating the health orders.

“I trust our police department to make sure that they are being not reactive but proactive with our businesses right now and understanding of what is going on. I would not want to take that out of their hands. I completely trust Chief Amirfar and his staff to make the best decisions possible. By undermining our authority and giving it to someone else is not what we need to do in this situation,” said Council member Becky Arellano.

Council member Gil Esquer recommended lower the fines to be more in line with other administrative citations. Mayor Bublak put forth a resolution to lower the fines to $100, $250 and $500 following warnings and education. Her resolution failed due to lack of a second.

The fines remained as adopted on April 14.