The Livermore City Council unanimously approved and made permanent changes to its municipal code that could provide authorities with more tools to enforce social distancing and stay-at-home orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While city officials say Livermore’s approach to enforcement will continue to prioritize education as the primary means to obtain compliance with the emergency orders, the changes are designed to give police and enforcement officers more leverage they anticipate might be needed to compel compliance during a prolonged quarantine period and as the weather improves.
The changes were initially put into effect April 10 by Marc Roberts, the city’s top administrator, who is also the emergency operations director, under an emergency declaration.
“The orders of the Alameda County Public Health Officer may be enforced criminally,” Livermore City Attorney Jason Alcala told the City Council during a live-streamed meeting Monday night. “What does that mean? That means through arrest and criminal prosecution. But it remains uncertain at this point whether the district attorney would actually prosecute … or how receptive they would be to those types of prosecutions.”
While Alcala made clear Livermore retains the option to pursue criminal charges for violations of emergency orders, the new rules that allow the city to pursue administrative abatement and civil action allow the city to retain more control over the process and to recover its costs.
Under the new city rules, any activity that violates an order issued by the city’s director of emergency services or the county health officer are automatically treated as a public nuisance, which can be enjoined in a civil action without further proof of injury or effect.
The ordinance does not specify how and when such orders would be enforced. As a general rule, public nuisance cases originate from citizen complaints.
A resolution supporting the changes specifically cites requirements to shelter in place and for all businesses and governmental operations to cease nonessential operations, as well as more stringent restrictions, to comply with social distancing requirements when outside of the home, to cease all activities at nonessential businesses, except for minimal basic operations, and the prohibition of nonessential travel and gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit.
Most of the changes to the city’s public nuisance ordinance approved this week were already in the works and nearing completion when the new coronavirus outbreak prompted a number of public health orders to be issued by local, state and federal agencies.