By Supervisor Sue Frost–
The past nine months happen to be a roller coaster for all of us.
The seemingly endless pandemic has led to all of us being forced into a new lifestyle. It has been harder on some than others. Small business owners and their employees are certainly among those most heavily impacted.
California has gone from stay-at-home orders to watch lists, blueprints, and regional shutdowns. At each step, and sometimes in between, the guidelines for businesses have changed.
We have seen many businesses remain closed while others have remained open or bounced between being open or closed. In the worst cases, some businesses have closed forever.
For businesses still hanging on, the struggle continues to be persistent, and I was baffled through the notion that we should be threatening all of them with fines of up to $10,000. Still, that notion took form in a proposal brought forward by our Public Health Department being an urgency ordinance for consideration through the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.
The ordinance which was proposed was too broad, too aggressive, and frankly, too subjective for me to support it.
Put simply; the ordinance gave the county and cities the authority to fine a business when found not to be compliant with any regulations or requirements within a public health order. That sounds straightforward enough, however the resolution went beyond the county’s standard for enforcing ordinances.
First, unlike most of the ordinances the county adopts that don't impact cities, this ordinance would impose the same enforcement authority and fine structure on Citrus Heights. Also, the business owner may not be held responsible for the violation. The ordinance included the home owner as the potentially responsible party.
Further, it gave the Public Health Department the authority to designate anyone they saw fit as an enforcement officer. That means it would not necessarily be the Sheriff, The code enforcement department, or even a health inspector entering businesses to investigate violations. Under this ordinance, any county employee might be given the authority to enter a business and cite them for a perceived violation.
I say perceived violation because not only are enforcement officers potentially untrained county employees, but they would not be required to even witness an infringement under the ordinance.
If adopted, the enforcement officer could issue citations according to “investigations” or simply being told by other county staff an infringement occurred. This incredibly low burden of proof could have gone a long way to creating undue allegations.
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The ordinance did include an appeal process, but only when the fines were for more than $1,000. With the fines being as much as $500 for each day a perceived violation occurs, I am certain many would be granted the chance for an appeal. However, the appeal process would need a $750 deposit (unless proof of an inability to pay can be provided) with no guarantee of recouping the deposit when the appeal fails.
Many businesses have previously put everything they have into finding methods to comply with ever-changing health orders. One incident could be the deciding factor in whether or not the business can remain open or close forever.
Ultimately, that's my biggest concern with the ordinance. A business struggling to keep the lights on could see fines as high as $10,000, plus “administrative fees,” and they close for good. When a business closes permanently or for 72 hours, that means employees and also the business owner have no money arriving.
While some were fortunate in early stages to receive financial assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), many smaller businesses, particularly minority-owned businesses, received virtually no aid.
I understand the need to protect lives throughout the pandemic. The county has lots of ways to enforce public health orders that we can rely on for that. But if we start adding to small businesses’ financial struggles, that may mean more people without the way to pay bills, rent, or put food up for grabs.
I would much rather we find businesses can not comply and find ways to enable them to through education or providing resources. We can stop the spread of COVID-19 and help people maintain their livelihood, which I aim to achieve.
Based on the more than 3,000 public comments we received around the ordinance, I think many people in the county agree with me and are as glad as I am the ordinance was pulled from consideration.
Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served like a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights.She can be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or
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