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SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County supervisors on Tuesday allowed sheriff’s deputies to write $100 tickets for not wearing a face covering outdoors near other people.

The move comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated face coverings outdoors and other areas in June. The infraction is a $100 ticket for the first offense and $200 for a second offense. It’s a step down from $1,000 misdemeanor fines that had been on the books but rarely enforced. Leaders say the new rule is more enforceable and effective immediately.

It “gives us an ability to speak with people, to publicly educate folks and ask them to comply voluntarily before giving them something akin to a traffic ticket if they refuse to comply,” Santa Cruz County Counsel Jason Heath said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting. 

Full Steam Dumplings Head Chef Andy Huynh pulls meat from a 120-pound pig at the farmers market in Live Oak on Sunday. The pig came from Corralitos-based Pajaro Pastures and 27-year-old Hunyh sold out of the pork dish that day. (William Duncan – Santa Cruz Local)

Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies can write the tickets in unincorporated areas of the county such as Live Oak, Pleasure Point, Soquel, Aptos, La Selva Beach and outside Watsonville. 

The Scotts Valley City Council is set to take up a similar law to enforce a $100 ticket at its meeting Wednesday. More than 15 other California cities and counties also have $100 tickets including Marin County and the cities of Monterey and Salinas. 

Several people spoke for and against masks at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting. The supervisors approved the law 5-0. 

“You can’t pick and choose when to listen to public health leaders,” Supervisor John Leopold said at the meeting. “We are following the advice of our health officer.” 

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Bag fee suspended

County supervisors voted 4-1 to suspend a 25-cent fee on single-use bags at stores in unincorporated county areas. Stores can still charge for bags, but the new county rule makes it optional. The vote was 4-1 with Supervisor John Leopold the sole “no” vote.

In the spring there were fears of potential COVID-19 spread through surfaces of reusable bags. Since then, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel has said that reusable bags do not pose a risk.

The original intent of the fee on single-use bags was to reduce plastic and paper waste. 

“The only real solution is going to be with the manufacturers,” said Santa Cruz County Board Chairman Greg Caput said of plastic waste. “If they can come up with something that I guess we call ‘biodegradable,’ that will replace plastic.”

Homeless plan

Santa Cruz County supervisors on Tuesday approved a six-month plan for homeless response and took another step toward a consultant-driven three-year plan. Some of the aims of both plans are to prevent homelessness, house more people permanently and connect more people to mental health and rehabilitation services. 

  • Benchlands camp. County leaders are now administering a homeless camp in the benchlands area between Santa Cruz County Superior Court and the San Lorenzo River. Leaders said Tuesday that the camp will close at the end of October in part because of expected rain and associated health concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that local authorities not disband camps because of potential COVID spread. County leaders said they would be mindful of how people are dispersed and potentially provide temporary housing. Serg Kagno, who has served on a city of Santa Cruz homeless task force, said at Tuesday’s meeting that unmanaged homeless camp dispersal is “still happening in the city.” 
A homeless camp near San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz housed 85 people on Sunday. It had at least 20 people on a wait list when the county began administering the camp July 29. It is expected to close Oct. 31. (William Duncan – Santa Cruz Local)
  • Mental health. In May, county mental health specialists began providing care at four shelters that they said have the most “behavioral health incidents.” They are Santa Cruz Veterans Hall, Watsonville Veterans Hall, the Salvation Army South County Navigation Center and the Salvation Army Armory. The county plans to hire three more mental health workers for services at those facilities. Mental health specialists also train shelter staff on “mental health first aid” for more minor problems.
  • Case management. A Case Management and Housing Navigation program is being developed for pilot projects at Watsonville Veterans Hall, Santa Cruz Veterans Hall and another site. Its goals are to lead people to permanent housing and create standards for case management and housing navigation across the county’s shelter system. 
  • Motel rooms. The county expects to add 120 motel rooms for COVID isolation and quarantine.  “These rooms will serve people experiencing homelessness and people who live in crowded living situations to isolate/quarantine safely and mitigate the spread of COVID to other household members,” according to the staff report. Separately, trailers have been made available for young adults in a program that is expected to run at least through December.

County staff has worked more closely with staff of the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville on homeless responses in recent months.

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said he appreciated all the work. “We could have had much bigger [COVID] spread in the homeless community and the broader community,”  Coonerty said. “We’re both trying to respond to a crisis and build a lasting, more effective system into the future.”

Supervisors support full census count

Supervisors plan to write a letter to Santa Cruz County’s congressional delegation to oppose the president’s intent to bar illegal immigrants from being counted in the census. The Constitution states that all people living in the United States are to be counted. Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, who has taught constitutional law at UC Santa Cruz, called the move unconstitutional and “a blatant political move to reduce representation in urban areas and blue states — it’s also continuing racism by this president.”

$1M earmarked for rental assistance

Supervisors on Tuesday pledged to use $1 million of federal CARES Act money for rent and utility assistance for people hurt by COVID-19 and related orders. Federal money allocations are expected to be finalized during county budget hearings that start Monday. 

‘Hopefully this takes some of the pressure off working families as they struggle to get by right now,” Coonerty said. “Hopefully this is a lifeline going forward.” 

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.