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Council Issues Directive: Masks Mandatory In City
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Taken from the special council meeting hosted online, this screen shows Riverbank City Council members and staffers during the session where the city required masks be worn at all businesses in the city. Virginia Still/The News
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Just one of many signs posted around the community, noting that face coverings are now required to enter local businesses. Ric McGinnis/The News

Members of the Riverbank City Council approved an Urgency Ordinance at a special meeting held this past week, making it mandatory for all businesses in Riverbank and customers wear face coverings. Those that do not comply will be issued fines. The special meeting was called to order due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in Stanislaus County and the council action taken in an attempt to stop the spread.

City Manager Sean Scully explained that in the past few weeks there has been a spike of cases in the county with positive cases up 27 percent as of last Thursday which is higher than the state average and other areas.

“We had a difficult time obtaining widespread compliance locally,” said Scully. “I can tell you as one of the people that receives a lot of complaints from the public we have had complaints in particular about businesses in town. With the virus getting worse we expect that to grow as people feel more and more concerned about doing business in town when the mask order is not being required at places of business.”

Although the State already has a mask order for all people in California, the City of Riverbank has collaborated with the City Attorney’s office to create the enforcement ordinance for the City of Riverbank. The urgency was related to the concerns from the city council and from a number of complaints that the city manager received to be more active in enforcing the mask order.

He added that on June 18 the California Public Health Officer issued a Guidance1 (the “June 18 Guidance”), which supersedes the April 1 Guidance, and now requires all people in California to wear face coverings when in public in specific enumerated circumstances, with certain exceptions for individuals with certain disabilities, health conditions, or other risks, or individuals under two years of age, and this June 18 Guidance is fully binding on all people in California.

“It has been locally within this county enforcement that has been generally sort of soft,” stated Scully. “I would say the expectation is that people are going to do the right thing and comply with the state order. Unfortunately we have seen that there are some places that have not done that and are creating situations that could potentially lead to the spread of the virus.”

The fine structure of the Ordinance is as follows: the code enforcement officer may issue a warning to the business responsible for the violation or issue an administrative citation of a $250 fine for the first violation. The second violation will be a fine of $500 and the third fine and for all subsequent violations will be $1000.

“I would love to administer this entire program without giving out one fine and to have voluntary compliance and have everybody on board,” expressed Scully. “The fines are really designed for businesses that do not have or just refuse to comply for whatever reason which I think this ordinance is essentially saying it is not acceptable.”

These fines would apply to anyone with a business in Riverbank that does not comply with the Ordinance. The Ordinance states that face mask coverings can be fabric like a scarf or bandana and that all reusable face masks or coverings should be washed frequently. They discourage the use of N-95 masks as there has been a shortage of those types of masks that medical professionals use.

The Ordinance is effective immediately and since it is an urgency ordinance it required a four-fifths vote; the action was unanimously approved by the council.

Furthermore it was stated that the violation of the ordinance is considered an imminent threat to the public health and shall constitute a public nuisance in accordance with Title IX, General Regulations, of the Riverbank Municipal Code (“RMC”), Chapter 98, Nuisance Abatement. The City Manager may designate an enforcement officer who may issue administrative citations for violations of the Ordinance, pursuant to the procedures in Chapter 98 of the RMC.

“The other side to the enforcement that I want to mention is that we are going to do what we can to be proactive here because we have a very small staff; typically we operate on a complaint basis,” added Scully. “For this particular case we will get out to areas of the community and businesses that we already know aren’t complying and make contact with them and get them into compliance versus waiting for a complaint. And of course complaints as well, which we already received a handful of complaints that we will be following up on.”

Since this is considered a public health crisis the City of Riverbank is making this ordinance a priority.

The City has started a mask program where they purchased over 10,000 masks that have been distributed to non-profits, faith based organizations and others in an attempt to make masks accessible to anyone that needs them.

“Anybody in Riverbank regardless of your status can get masks in an ongoing basis for the remainder of the crisis,” noted Scully. “There are no excuses for anybody that does not have one because they are available now in many places throughout the county. The goal again is not to slap anyone on the wrist, the goal is to simply just get through the remainder of this crisis and hopefully shorten the time span so we can at some point get back to some level of normalcy.”

There were no public comments made and there were no written comments submitted during the special meeting.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 28.