Nevada City police to form COVID-19 task force, city to weigh further measures
Nevada City parking enforcement officers, returned to service two weeks ago and possibly facing layoffs, will instead transition into a COVID-19 task force.
Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis told the City Council about the change at a special Friday meeting, called so the council could hear public concern and strategize regarding measures the city can take.
The meeting came in response to a countywide surge in COVID-19 cases which has resulted in the county being shifted into the purple, or “widespread,” risk tier.
The task force, Ellis explained, would connect with businesses and distribute supplies such as sanitizer and personal protective equipment, using this contact to also provide education on changing guidelines and get a clearer sense of issues of harassment and customer non-compliance experienced by business owners and staff.
He emphasized that another way local businesses can receive support from law enforcement in their efforts to operate safely is to assert their right to refuse service in cases where customers refuse to wear a mask or follow other guidelines, and rely on police when these situations become trespassing violations.
“If the business owner doesn’t want somebody in their business, and law enforcement arrives and they refuse, they can be arrested for trespassing,“ Ellis said, adding that he views this as an easier path forward than enforcement directly based on guideline-specific codes.
The council took no formal action at the meeting, but asked Ellis to have officers tell people about the state’s 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Giving the council an update on county-level action and concerns, Nevada County Assistant CEO Mali Dyck detailed several steps the county is taking to support local businesses financially, but said there is growing workload concern in executing contact tracing as cases surge.
“When the pandemic started and the state was consulting (with) local public health departments on how much contact tracing they should be able to accommodate based on population, the recommendation was that we would be able to handle 45 cases at a time,” said Dyck.
According to the county Coronavirus Dashboard Friday afternoon, the county had 239 active cases.
A couple of public commenters sent in statements calling into question the benefits of mask-wearing, and had written in to advocate against mandates requiring it, while the majority of statements read were in favor of increased precautions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Several of these expressed disapproval of local businesses flouting public health guidelines and urged the council and law enforcement to take further action in these cases.
Within the council members’ discussion, they expressed unanimous agreement in the position that the spread of COVID-19 is an urgent issue on which the city should take more tangible action.
“The businesses that aren’t complying are really hurting the businesses who are complying,” said Mayor Erin Minett, after expressing that the level of adherence to COVID-19 guidelines currently seen in downtown Nevada City is not one she feels safe in. “I want to bring people in this town (back) to feel that Nevada City is a safe place to come into.”
Minett emphasized that most businesses are cooperating with local officials when informed of required safety measures. On this, she said the city would look into a designation, or “acknowledgment,” to signal to customers which businesses were following the public health guidelines applicable to them and thereby operating as a “safe business.” Methods to boost this messaging could include signage for these business’ storefronts as well as advertisement of the list of businesses on social media and the city website.
Vice Mayor Duane Strawser expressed concern for the county’s status in the eyes of state officials, and the funding repercussions this could have on local law enforcement.
Other possible measures — about which Minett said an additional special meeting may be called, after council members are briefed on the legal risks and details of these options — were discussed. These included the potential revocation of encroachment permits for the businesses currently holding one — in order to move their businesses’ services onto the sidewalk or street — but not complying with public health orders; enforcement in the case that a business is encroaching without a permit at all, or even without a business license; and the use of nuisance ordinances to enforce on these matters.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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