City Council Votes Against Mask Enforcement

With the possibility of renewed indoor masking mandates from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) looming, Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse called a Special Meeting on July 25 in which the City Council unanimously voted not to enforce the order in the city, should it be reinstated.  Public Health officials had announced last week that the county was in the “high” community risk level. However, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced on July 28 that an indoor universal mask mandate would not be imposed, citing a continued downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The July 28 announcement may have mooted the City Council’s actions at the Special Meeting. The sentiments expressed therein, however, are likely to hold. The Council meeting was colored by considerable public comment, with 75 people making emotional pleas in opposition to the mandate.

“I feel it is our job to lead and I support the power of choice,” Mayor Bosse said.

“Our job is to be proactive and public about what we believe. This is a united City Council and community that cares about health. We are not where we were in 2020, and now we need to move forward as a community and be part of the solution.”

According to Assistant City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey, the county does have the capability to enforce health mandates and has inspectors go out to ensure that businesses are compliant with the Public Health order. “I don’t remember the county having a substantial presence in our city,” Hunt-Coffey said of the city’s experience with county enforcement with previous mask mandates. 

“The Department of Public Health thanks the City of Beverly Hills for the support and assistance it has provided to protect the health of the public during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Public Health told the Courier in a statement. “If the universal indoor mask requirement does return, Public Health will continue to inform local officials of the current status of COVID-19 and the safety recommendations and requirements in Los Angeles County, as COVID-19 continues to be a leading cause of death in the County. This year, COVID-19 alone has claimed more than 4,000 lives in Los Angeles County, higher than the 6-month average total of deaths from drug overdoses, influenza (during a pre-pandemic year), and motor vehicle accidents combined.”

The Special City Council meeting began with a host of community voices, from concerned parents of children in the district to business owners and elected officials from neighboring cities, advocating against the enforcement of indoor masking. “Being controlled by the Los Angeles County Department of Public means that decisions about our lives are not being made based on our conditions and our needs,” Dr. Michal Amir-Salkin (a candidate for BHUSD School Board) said during public comment. “This is bad health care.”

“Is the cure worse than the virus and is the short-term solution worth the negative long-term impacts of wearing a mask 24/7,” candidate running for California’s 36th Congressional District Joe Collins said. 

According to statistics presented by city staff at the meeting, city employees spent a combined total of 62,767 hours on enforcement related to COVID-19 from July 2020 to June 2021. “I think that if the county institutes requirements, then I think it’s their job to provide the enforcement,” Councilman Lester Friedman said. “I think that we did it during the acute stage, I’m not sorry that we did it during the acute stage, but I do think that time has moved on now.”

“You have a great deal of discretion regarding where to devote your enforcement resources…You heard about code enforcement, obviously that’s going to take away from other priorities,” City Attorney Larry Wiener said. “The Council does have the discretion to say we want to focus on those other priorities and not focus on enforcing the mask mandates. 

“I find it difficult to want to impose mandates that we’re saying we’re not going to enforce or follow up with,” Councilwoman Sharona Nazarian said. “What’s the point?” 

The mask mandate would apply indoors for anyone age two and older in places such as shared office space, retail settings, event spaces, restaurants, bars, gyms, and educational settings. Under the mandate, employers are obligated to provide employees with masks and have proper signage at their establishment. 

“In the past, when mandates have been implemented, but our surrounding counties are not wearing masks, it makes it much easier to go other places than coming to Beverly Hills,” Chief Executive Officer of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau Julie Wagner said. “There are numerous concerns that if this were to go through, that we would see business on the books for August disappear and go to neighboring counties.”

“I really feel that we have to heal as a community, and we have to respect each other, and we have to be part of the solution finally,” Mayor Bosse said. “I feel this is one of the most important meetings to have had because I really feel it was an opportunity for us to really hear you, hear each other, and for you to hear us, we are on the same page. This is a united Council, a united community, that cares about health and cares about each other and has learned from the last few years.”