Our View: A need for more clarity

Listening to some people talk about the coronavirus, you’d think Nevada County was in the clear.

Gatherings without masks, no social distancing and celebrating restaurants that defy statewide orders. Come in, have a seat and get served. Break the rules and at least make a little money while those who obey take it on the chin. Throw precaution out the window, and see how long you can get away with it.

The Board of Supervisors was poised to take action this past Tuesday against spots like that in the form of an urgency ordinance that, if passed, would have imposed significant fines against businesses that violate the state order. Mess up three times in the same year and you could get slapped with a $10,000 fine.

But, perhaps testing the wind and its own slapdash ordinance, the board opted to step back. Board Chairwoman Heidi Hall said it’ll return in two weeks, “after we’ve done a good job correcting the misinformation.”

It might want to spend some time fine tuning the ordinance as well.

There’s plenty of good and bad in what supervisors are attempting, which is usually the best we can hope for in government.

Sure, there’s a good argument to be made that Nevada County isn’t, for example, Los Angeles, and shouldn’t be forced to abide by the same blanket rules. The coronavirus isn’t necessarily spreading here through indoor dining, in a community of mere thousands, while Los Angeles is dealing with over 175,000 cases.

But the statewide order affects every county, and our leaders are bound to enforce it.

The existing fines against three businesses county officials say have had their food permits revoked, extending into the thousands of dollars, appear to have stopped them from violating the state mandate. However, that doesn’t mean the pandemic has stopped. Science points to masks and social distancing working, and our community must have a method of ensuring people comply.

It’s good these businesses have started to comply. Let’s hope they follow through.

According to county officials, as of Thursday the three restaurants that had their food permits revoked — Old Town Cafe, Sergio’s Caffe and Friar Tuck’s — have stopped indoor service. The fines will stop, though each still must pay $4,575 in what they’ve accrued, and get right with the county before their permits are reinstated.

That amount, just under $5,000, is a far cry from the $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second and $10,000 for the third the ordinance would have imposed. And, depending on how you read the ordinance, it seems possible someone could face a $500 fine for not wearing a mask in public.

There’s a reason some 60 people gathered Tuesday morning outside of the Eric Rood Administrative Center in opposition to the ordinance. Agree with them or not, it’s wise to listen to your constituents when they rally outside your office.

Supervisor Dan Miller said the ordinance was pulled so its rewrite would be clearer, and not to appease its detractors.

But nothing wrong with knocking off two birds with one stone, at least for a couple of weeks.

Did the board kick the can down the road? Yes. But it was the right time to kick, giving it time to improve the ordinance and clear up what Hall called “misinformation.”

We’ve stumbled along for this long. We can wait two weeks to educate the community, create a better ordinance and get this right.

One thing that needs no clarity: Local government must have enforcement power that actually makes people who disobey become compliant. We wouldn’t need an ordinance if everyone followed the rules.

Of course, regardless of the situation, that’s never the case. You just need to see the number of people who continue to roam without masks, even coughing on people who ask them to put one on, to realize that.

This willful arrogance is the heart of the problem. Some people would rather rally around the flag of freedom to endanger others, instead of acting on behalf of greater freedoms for everyone.

That wouldn’t have worked during World War II, and it won’t work now.

Wearing a mask, social distancing and quarantining when sick will get us through this pandemic and back into better economic days. Acknowledging and acting on science, not emotion, will put our community and nation on the right track.

What could be clearer?

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from , as well as informed community members. Contact the board at [email protected]

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