San Bernardino County, California: Residents Stave Off $5000 per Day COVID-19 Fines

California Governor, Gavin Newsom

By Dan Titus, – August 1, 2020

Q: How do cities and counties in California get needed money for COVID-19 supplies?

A: By cowering down to California Governor Newsom’s draconian edicts.

Newsom wants cities and counties to create increased enforcement ordinances for COVID-19 to intimidate local businesses and residents who do not bend to the Governor’s extreme COVID-19 “rules”.

Newsom has usurped the requirements of President Trump’s taskforce to distribute federal COVID-19 funds to cities and counties. The federal rules were designed to decentralize the response. The Governor has overstepped his authority by withholding funds to localities within the state; however, most city and county officials, including San Bernardino County, are willing to cave to the Governor’s demands, throwing citizens under the bus. Two California cities are standing up to the Governor.

The central valley cities of Atwater and Coalinga have become local heroes, beacons of hope for oppressed business owners. They are setting an example for the rest of the State, and nation, in defiance of COVID-19 rules. In citing the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Fourteenth Amendment, Atwater’s City Council declared that the city is there to “foster trust” with businesses. They passed a resolution opposing State COVID-19 rules.   Businesses were deemed “socially responsible”, reaffirming owners “inalienable rights”. The resolutions make it clear that the cities won’t enforce the State’s public health orders.

Coalinga’s City Council approved a resolution calling allbusinesses “essential” and thus, able to remain open despite the state’s shutdown orders. Coalinga city councilmember Adam Adkisson said California Governor Gavin Newsom is acting like “a school yard bully” when it comes to distribution of federal coronavirus relief funding.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said that his office will not enforce arbitrary COVID-19 rules. “The Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing the state’s COVID-19 restrictions for businesses that they consider essential or nonessential.”

The state’s Office of Emergency Services sent letters of coercion to the cities notifying officials that they risked losing money if they didn’t withdraw resolutions defying the state’s orders. Showing leadership, the city councils recently met, reaffirming their resolutions.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, and the Health Department have done a flip-flop in enforcing COVID-19 rules. In her article dated 4-18-2020, “San Bernardino County Clarifies its Coronavirus Mask Order Won’t be Enforced”, San Bernardino Sun reporter, Sandra Emerson reported: “While, technically, San Bernardino County residents can be fined or imprisoned for not covering their faces in public during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the sheriff’s department doesn’t plan to punish violators. According to Jodi Miller, a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s spokeswoman wrote on 4-8-2020: “Deputies will not be stopping persons and citing them simply because they are not wearing face coverings,” However, recently this stance has changed with the introduction of a County urgency ordinance to institute a heavy hand in enforcing COVID-19 rules.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors seem more concerned about governing through governance, administrative edicts, rather than representing the citizens in the County. They are duly elected representatives. They swore a Constitutional oath of office.

According to San Bernardino County Board Chairman, Curt Hagman, an urgency ordinance is needed to “get money from the State.” This reasoning is antithetical to what the cities of Atwater and Coalinga are doing to protect their citizens and businesses from unconstitutional administrative rules and governance.

Hagman further stated, “If the County does not evoke the urgency ordinance, the State could come in and remove business licenses.”

But, the County could also do nothing, and let the State enforce COVID-19 rules. Let the State remove business licenses; in doing so, the state will be the “bad guys.” The County should pass resolutions to protect businesses just like Atwater and Coalinga did; they could be heroes, also.

Some jurisdictions are passing laws to indemnify local businesses from liability for COVID-19.  President Donald Trump expressed support for a proposal to include immunity from liability for companies. However, this is not necessary. If businesses feel the need to protect themselves from liability lawsuits, they can simply have customers agree to a waiver before entering their location.

On Tuesday, 7-28-2020, after County citizens opposed to the County’s urgency ordinance, lit up the telephones of the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors, they voted to remove it from the meeting agenda calendar.

The twelve page urgency ordinance declares violations of the State OR County Health Officer, related to COVID-19, to be unlawful and a public nuisance, authorizing the issuance of administrative citations.” The ordinance provides deference to the State, and Governor Newsom’s COVID-19 rule edicts.

The urgency ordinance would evoke an administrative penalty for non-commercial activity of up to $500 dollars per day, and up to $5000 per day for commercial activity. The ordinance would be adopted as law for both incorporated cities and unincorporated areas in the County. Therefore, the ordinance yokes the cities into the purview of the County.

The sensational, over-the-top language of the ordinance was written by County Counsel, Michelle Blakemore and County staff. The language fear mongers dynamic COVID-19 statistics. It states, that those businesses that disregard State OR local Public Health Orders, “… are violators that present a serious and immediate risk to public health and safety, contributing greatly to the likelihood of a public health crisis… and that the issuance of administrative penalties provides a significant deterrent to violating the Public Health Officer’s orders…” In other words, there might be a crisis and if you don’t do what we say, we will penalize you because we CLAIM that you present a serious and immediate risk to public health and safety.

Section K of the ordinance says: “This alternative enforcement mechanism is also designed to provide some relief to law enforcement, to enable additional County staff to assist with enforcing the Public Health Officer’s orders, and to enhance the County’s ability to control the spread of COVID-19.” We called the Sheriff’s office and they confirmed that they are not enforcing COVID-19 rules; therefore, the statement to bring in additional County staff, does not have validity.

It seems that County staff is advocating an independent enforcement arm in conjunction with the Sheriff. Consigning participation of the Sheriff, through administrative rules, is disingenuous.  The Sheriff’s office is not a department of the County.

According to Inland Empire resident Douglas V. Gibbs, President of the Constitution Association and Fellow with American Freedom Alliance:

  1. “The County Sheriff is your last line of defense against government tyranny and unconstitutionality. The sheriff is elected by the people, not appointed by government; therefore, they are independent from government control and scrutiny. 
  2. A governor cannot legally suspend or fire a County Sheriff, the fate of the office of the Sheriff lies in the hands of the voters in his county.  Recognizing our Natural Rights, and the rule of law, a sheriff’s county is his domain, where it is historically his job (going all the way back to England before the founding of this country) to collect local taxes, and run the local unit of the State militia (which includes the unorganized militia of armed citizens as defined in the U.S. Code, and Founding Father George Mason’s definition, “What is the militia?  It is the whole people, except for a few public officials”) and even defy unconstitutional laws if they decide those laws are illegal. 
  3. In short, the County Sheriffs around the country are the army in place to protect the citizens from government tyranny, both federal and State.  The sheriffs have taken an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, and it is their job to resist officials and laws that violate the Supreme Law of the Land. 
  4. It is their job to stand up to the federal and State governments and ensure that they don’t abuse the citizens with tyrannical laws, policies and dictates that violate the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution, and the State constitution. Included in that is also the authority to forbid federal and State agents from coming into his county attempting to enforce laws that the sheriff fully understands to be unconstitutional.
  5. Sheriffs organize the local militia to defend the county against attackers and tyranny. The sheriff belongs to the people, and it is the job of the sheriff to secure the rights of liberty of the people against tyranny from either the federal government, or the State.”

San Bernardino Sherriff, John McMahon, needs to follow the lead of Merced Sheriff Vern Warnke and support the Constitutional rights of citizens and not enforce the State’s COVID restrictions.

Governments should decentralize the COVID-19 response directly to businesses and people that need assistance. Instead, the State and County are hindering economic recovery. They treat businesses and residents like children as if they are incapable of being free and making their own choices, and decisions. Rather than protecting people from the State, many cities and counties are acting as unauthorized enforcement agents, usurping constitutional rights, inflicting economic damage and destroying lives. Local governments need to standup for the citizens and stop supporting tyrannical State policy and Governor Newsom.

Dan Titus is affiliated with the American Coalition for Sustainable Communities (ACSC). Their mission is sustaining representative government; not governance, by unelected agencies and commissions.