Del Mar plans to step up its enforcement of mask wearing in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The City Council agreed Monday, Aug. 3, to hire part-time deputies to work two days a week for the next four months to enforce San Diego County’s emergency public health order, with an emphasis on the requirement for facial coverings.

Violations of the county health order may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

The council also voted unanimously to ask the county health officer to expand the health order to include a requirement that people wear facial coverings anytime they leave their home, whether or not they are within 6 feet of another person not in their family.

“The concept is to get everybody to understand that when you go outside you have a mask and you wear it,” said Councilman Dave Druker. “If everybody wore a mask we could stop this virus in its tracks.”

The council unanimously supported the letter, but Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland opposed hiring additional deputies. She said the money could be better spent on other things, especially during a budget crisis when city employees are having their hours cut, and that there could be negative consequences from increasing enforcement.

“This … could end up backfiring and attract COVID deniers to come march in Del Mar,” Gaasterland said.

Resident Robin Crabtree called the additional enforcement “a huge waste of money,” saying that more signs and communication would achieve the same results.

“You have good intentions, but I think you need to rethink this,” Crabtree said by telephone at the virtual council meeting. “Put a bunch more money on education … tell them to put their mask on, and if they don’t want to, just keep going.”

In addition to allocating $20,000 to hire part-time deputies for the enforcement program, the council agreed Monday, Aug. 3, to spend $2,000 for more signs in public places to promote mask wearing.

Del Mar is the smallest city in San Diego County, with a little more than 4,000 residents, but “on any given day there are 20,000 to 25,000 people here,” said Councilman Dwight Worden. Many of those people are tourists from places outside the county or the state, where the virus may be rampant.

“There’s no way for you to know who’s an asymptomatic carrier,” Worden said. “Two tools we have are wearing face masks and social distancing. We need to get where mask wearing is second nature … like seat belts.”

The knowledge that deputies are on duty to enforce the health order will encourage compliance, he said. Also, in case of a conflict, deputies have the authority and experience that city employees do not.

“You really want someone who’s trained how to do these interactions,” Worden said.

Mayor Ellie Haviland said increased enforcement will make residents and visitors feel more safe, and help to control the pandemic.

Del Mar, like several other cities in the county, contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement. Normally, Del Mar has just one full-time deputy on duty, and that deputy could be called away for hours at a time to an incident outside the city.

The four-month pilot program calls for one additional deputy to work a four-hour shift two days a week, with dates and locations to be determined in coordination with city officials.

Enforcement will be focused on areas as needed near the beach, Seagrove and Powerhouse parks, the civic center and the downtown core.

Capt. Herbert Taft, of the Sheriff’s Department’s North Coastal Station based in Encinitas, said deputies have been directed to talk with people and attempt to gain their compliance before issuing citations.

“Most people will comply if you ask them,” he said.

His station has issued 43 citations so far for violations of the county health order, he said.

Most of the violations have been in Encinitas, he said. Details on the types of violations were unavailable, but most were for groups of more than six non-family members or for businesses that remained open despite orders to close.

Enforcement of face mask requirements can be “challenging,” Taft said. Often when someone calls to complain about a violation, the violator is gone when a deputy arrives. Also, violations tend to occur in a crowd of people where it’s difficult to single out an individual. And people can claim a medical exemption, which is difficult to verify.

“This is something we have to see (happening) in our presence,” he said, and enforcement improves when there is an deputy on the scene to respond quickly.

Carlsbad last week considered adopting its own ordinance, with fines of $100 to $500, so that the city’s police could better enforce the county health order. That ordinance failed on a 2-2 vote, but the council asked staffers to draft another enforcement ordinance more specific to Carlsbad to bring back at a future meeting.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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