Even as COVID-19 case numbers surge, Beverly Hills remains the site of protests against public health measures meant to curb the pandemic’s spread. In the face of the protests–and the closure of outdoor dining by the County–the City Council at its Dec. 1 Study Session discussed reconvening the COVID-19 Medical Task Force composed of medical experts to advise the City on its next steps.
“I think we probably should have asked them to convene a bit more, because as the data changes, we may be making different conclusions,” Councilmember Mirisch, who proposed reconvening the task force, told the Courier. “But the one thing that I think has come out of all of this is that masks are indeed among the best and most effective ways that we can prevent the spread of the virus.”
The issue of enforcement has risen to the fore as supporters of Donald Trump and anti-mask advocates continue to gather in Beverly Gardens Park each Saturday. While the City of Beverly Hills has issued over 400 citations for violations of the City’s face covering ordinance, the City has issued none to rally attendees. The rally began in opposition to public health restrictions around the virus and has hosted speakers who have encouraged others not to wear masks. The Courier has reported from all but two of the weekly rallies since they began in July. At each, just feet away from signs extolling social distancing and face coverings, a majority of participants have flouted the ordinance.
“We have been unable to enforce face coverings at these demonstrations and protests,” Rivetti told the Council at the Oct. 27 Study Session. “They think it’s their constitutional right not to wear [masks]. And so, we’re going to get resistance right out the gate.”
While the City has not cited rally-goers, City agents do appear to be making contact with attendees. One demonstrator filmed an encounter with two park rangers and posted the video on Facebook. The video, reviewed by the Courier, shows one ranger telling the protestor that he only needs to have a mask in his possession, but does not need to wear it.
“Our ordinance is, if you don’t have a face covering, not if you’re not wearing it–you see the difference? If you have one in your pocket, you’re free to go,” the Ranger says.
“If I walk around without [a] face mask on my face, are you going to give me a ticket?”
“I’m only going to issue a citation if you don’t have one in your pocket,” replied the Ranger.
According to the text of the ordinance, “all persons shall wear face coverings that cover their mouth and nose openings such as scarves (dense fabric, without holes), bandannas, neck gaiters, or other fabric face coverings, when they leave their homes or places of residence for essential activities, such as taking a walk through their neighborhood, if that person has potential to come within six feet of another person not a member of their household.”
“The two code enforcement officers were incorrect in their statements,” Mayor Lester Friedman told the Courier in response to the video. “I think it’s something that their supervisors need to talk to them about.”
In response to growing concern and frustration from residents over the weekly presence by the largely unmasked crowd, the Council has enacted a series of rules regarding assemblies within the City.
On Oct. 27, in anticipation of unrest following the Nov. 3 General Election, the City Council adopted Urgency Ordinance No. 20-O-2821, which updated and clarified the City’s rules on parades and assemblies.
While the unrest never materialized, the rallies continued, prompting the City to amend the ordinance to ban all unpermitted assemblies in Beverly Gardens Park on Nov. 24.
Yet, on Nov. 28–the first Saturday following the update to the ordinance–dozens of rally-goers returned to the park. “As you see, City Council will not shut us down,” rally organizer Shiva Bagheri said on a livestream during the event. “We are staying open.”
Officers with the Beverly Hills Police Department spoke with Bagheri about moving the rally in front of City Hall, but she declined. Officers later cited her for holding a rally without a permit, but not for refusing to wear a mask.
Also in attendance that day was Councilmember Mirisch, who filmed and photographed the scene at Beverly Gardens Park for five minutes on Saturday.
“I wanted to see if they were following mask protocols and document it one way or the other,” he told the Courier. “Clearly, they weren’t, and that’s a problem, especially in light of our discussion [at the Dec. 1 City Council meeting] on how we felt that the County decision to shut down outdoor dining is wrong. We have to be serious about enforcing the things that we really know do make a difference and, of course, masks wearing is pretty much at the top of that list.”
Mayor Friedman defended the City’s enforcement of the mask ordinance to the Courier and stressed that enforcement of the ordinance falls on BHPD.
“The truth of the matter is that Beverly Hills has been the most aggressive city in giving out facial covering citations,” he told the Courier, saying that Los Angeles County has issued less than half of the total issued by Beverly Hills.
“The police department is aware of our desire, and I think I need to leave the actual enforcement arm of it to their discretion. Again, I think that they’re aware of where we stand on it.”
On Dec. 3, Governor Gavin Newsom announced sweeping new regional stay-at-home orders tied to ICU occupancy rates. Southern California is expected to trigger the 15 percent ICU available capacity rate soon. While the order allows for outdoor protests, it requires that participants wear masks and practice social distancing. Another Freedom Rally is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5, in Beverly Gardens Park.