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Berkeley City Council Approves New Ordinance: $100 Fine for Violating COVID-19 Health Directives

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 09, 2020 | 0 Comments

COVID-19 continues to impact legislation at both the state level and the local level. Many cities and towns are choosing to pass legislation in an attempt to encourage people to wear masks and to follow health guidelines that recommend smaller numbers of people gathered in one space. Berkeley, California recently faced its own decision-making process.

Fine Decisions?

In Berkeley, California, a law initially required people to wear a mask when they were outdoors and within six feet of someone other than members of their pod or household. The phrasing also specifies that individuals should begin to put the mask on once they were within 30 feet an individual. Originally, the code only allowed for the extremes of either individual warnings or criminal prosecution. Businesses could be required to comply, but that was it. City officials wanted a more tempered approach to addressing the COVID-19 concerns. The city council met on September 15th to consider a proposed ordinance that would result in a citation and a fine for COVID-19 violations. Such an approach would allow for a civil process with repercussions, rather than jumping straight to a criminal process.

Although there are many areas where folks were violating the regulations, Berkeleyside reported that locations tied to UC Berkeley were a concern. “In early July, the university reported 47 COVID-19 cases connected to a series of CalGreek parties. Elmwood resident Phil Bokovoy is dissatisfied with how the university has addressed student gatherings in his neighborhood. Most of the students he sees on campus wear masks, he said, but those who live in his neighborhood often don't. “A lot of the students don't even move off the sidewalk if they're not wearing a mask,” Bokovoy added. “It makes me not want to get out much.”

Janet Gilmore, a UC Berkeley spokesperson, told Berkeleyside in an email, “The university generally does not have jurisdiction to discipline individual students who violate ordinances when off-campus, such as shelter-in-place regulations, unless harm results to a member of the university community.”

Final Resolution

During their meeting, the Berkeley City Council did pass the ordinance. Penalties start at $100 and can go up to as high as $500 for repeat offenses. So that the policy doesn't unfairly impact low-income individuals, there is a process where the fine may be waived due to financial hardship. According to The Daily Californian, “city policy will be to prioritize enforcement at social gatherings indoors, or with 12 or more people outdoors.” The ordinance also includes an addendum that recommends the revenue from fines be used to purchase and provide masks to those who cannot afford them.

An Experienced Attorney-Advisor Can Assist

Berkeley City Council is of course not unique in imposing restrictions and requirements do to COVID.  Health requirements associated with COVID are obviously impacting people across the United States, college students in particular - the reason being that almost all colleges and universities have expansive Code of Conduct policies which allow jurisdiction for students' behavior both on and off campus.  There will be certain instances where a school may not be able to sanction off campus behavior, but this is generally the exception and not the rule.  Because of this concern, in addition to school's potentially taking severe action against students for failure to comply with COVID and health mandates, having an experienced attorney-advisor in your corner will help best allow a fair process and the prospect of a favorable resolution. 

If you're facing disciplinary action for failing to wear a mask, or otherwise not complying with COVID-related restrictions such as social distancing, and your university is threatening sanctions, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online. Put our years of experience in student discipline defense to work for you.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience passionately fighting for the futures of his clients. Mr. Lento represents students and others in disciplinary cases and other proceedings at universities and colleges across the United States while concurrently fighting in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, and New Jersey. Mr. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand universities and colleges across the United States. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide.

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