Fresno · Highlight

Fresno proposal to fine large household gatherings withdrawn

Dec. 8, 2020, 4:15 p.m.: A proposal to introduce fines for in-home gatherings exceeding 15 people was withdrawn from public consideration as the Fresno City Council kicked off its emergency meeting on Tuesday.

Ahead of the meeting, Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias introduced a closed session discussion of “[m]atters posing a threat to the security of public buildings, the security of essential public services, and to the public’s right of access to public services and public facilities, and related actions pertaining to the Declaration by Governor Newsom of
a State of Emergency to Help State Prepare for Broader Spread of COVID-19.”

As the meeting started, he sought to formally incorporate the item into the Tuesday agenda. Fresno City Council member Luis Chavez moved to add it on the caveat that the private gathering fine be removed from the current agenda.

The motion to withdraw the proposal was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Fresno City Council member Nelson Esparza dissenting.

Dec. 8, 2020, 10:40 a.m.: A proposal by the Fresno City Council to introduce fines for in-home gatherings exceeding 15 people has launched a war of words between Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias, Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall, and Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.

Shortly after the proposal went public – as mandated for an emergency meeting to be held this afternoon – Hall announced that the Fresno Police Department would not enforce the order:

It has come to my attention, the Fresno City Council has announced a Special Meeting to be held on Tuesday, December 8, 2020 at 4:00 PM. Council President Miguel Arias has called this Special Meeting for the introduction and adoption of an emergency amendment to Section 2-514 of the Fresno Municipal Code to prohibit residential gatherings of 15 or more people.

As the Chief of Police for the City of Fresno, I want this community to know that should this emergency amendment be approved by five City Council votes, the Fresno Police Department will NOT be enforcing this law. The Fresno Police Department will NOT be criminalizing the people’s rights to gather in their homes.

Instead, the Fresno Police Department will continue to focus our efforts on the violent crime that is plaguing this community.I would like to remind everyone to be safe this holiday season and to use good judgement and common sense to ensure the safety of your families and our community.

Later Monday evening, Smittcamp, in a statement issued by her office, questioned the constitutionality of the proposed order.

I have received several inquiries on the constitutionality/legality of the proposed order that Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias has indicated he is going to bring before the Council on December 8, 2020 which would prevent gatherings in private homes that involve more than 15 people.

I know of no authority in California statues or caselaw that would support this type of action, which would legally prohibit such gatherings.

I would encourage all Fresno City Council members to research the constitutionality and legality of their proposed ordinances before they advertise them in the media or propose them as an agenda items to be voted upon.”

Arias fired back at Smittcamp and Hall in a statement on Tuesday morning, noting that the ordinance was drafted by City Attorney Doug Sloan.

“I have received several inquiries about District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp’s premature comments regarding the constitutionality of a draft COVID-19 ordinance that has yet to be discussed by the City Council.

This first draft ordinance was written by our City Attorney at the direction of the City Council for the purpose of discussion to address the alarming numbers of COVID-19 cases that have been linked to social gatherings. I am listed as the sponsor because as the Council President I set the council agenda as requested by my colleagues and staff. Ms. Smittcamp’s statement that this is my item is harmful and [reckless] given the level of divisiveness and violence that our city and our country is experiencing in relation to COVID related restrictions.

Fresno County has officially reached ZERO ICU capacity. This is an emergency, and as such, it merits that we consider emergency actions to maintain life-saving safety net for everyone who needs it. According to County Supervisors and Public Health officials, the main source of COVID infections is large social gatherings. This is why the City Council has scheduled a special meeting to discuss this matter as soon as possible.I welcome the public’s input on this matter during the Council’s special meeting.

Lastly, I encourage our District Attorney and Police Chief, if they aren’t doing anything to help our city get out of this disaster, to at least direct their questions to Mayor Brand or the City Attorney and gain some context before jumping to conclusions and making divisive comments. Like at the federal level, it’s time to move on from destructive and divisive politics. We are in this together.

Dec. 7, 2020, 2:31 p.m.: A new proposal to restrict the number of individuals allowed for in-home gatherings within the City of Fresno is set for approval on Tuesday. 

The proposal, sponsored by Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias, comes as the San Joaquin Valley region entered shelter-in-place under a recent order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

The proposed ordinance establishes a set of tiered fines for gatherings of 15 or more people in a single residence, would start financial penalties at $1,000 for the first offense. 

A second offense under the rule would run violators $5,000. Any subsequent violations would cost $10,000 per violation. 

The rule tracks with fines issued by the city’s code enforcement department for small businesses that fail to comply with local and state coronavirus regulations. 

City and county leaders have repeatedly blamed large, household gatherings as the source of outbreaks and surges in coronavirus cases. 

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.