San Diego mayor orders police to intensify enforcement of public health rules

Diners take in meals and drinks at Princess Pub & Grille on Dec. 30.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

New San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria has signed an executive order for more enforcement of coronavirus-related health orders.

His order went into effect late Dec. 30, just before midnight.

Gloria also urged people not to gather for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“I have ordered the San Diego Police Department and asked the city attorney to pursue fines and potentially other enforcement action against public nuisances who choose to endanger the lives of others and blatantly and egregiously defy the provision of state and county public health orders,” Gloria said.

His order also suspends most parking enforcement throughout the city to encourage people to follow the state’s stay-at-home order, which was extended this week until the Southern California region’s hospital intensive care capacity reaches at least 15 percent.

The stay-at-home order mandates closures of onsite restaurant dining, museums, movie theaters, aquariums, zoos, salons and personal care services, limits indoor retail capacity to 20 percent and keeps gyms and places of worship outdoors.

Parking enforcement will be suspended for meter violations, time-limited parking, yellow commercial zones and short-term green zones. Red, white and blue parking zones will continue to be enforced to maintain public safety, Gloria said.

Gloria did not take questions at a news conference Dec. 30.

Police have been reluctant to issue citations and conduct other enforcement of public health orders on a large scale. For most of the pandemic, they have focused mainly on educating people to achieve compliance, issuing citations to the most blatant violators.

Across San Diego County, police officers and sheriff’s deputies issued about 430 coronavirus-related citations between April and mid-November, according to data obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune. The vast majority of those — 393 — were issued in April by the San Diego Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department and Carlsbad Police Department.

Morgan Harpenau and John Kegley share a meal at Rudford's Restaurant.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego Police Department issued at least 168 citations between April and July 5, the most recent data available. Police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said very few citations have been issued over the past several months — likely less than 10.

A violation of the public health order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail.

The Sheriff’s Department recently leaned into enforcement efforts as coronavirus case counts have surged and hospitals have filled throughout the county.

Sheriff Bill Gore said in November that he would allocate eight full-time deputies to help investigate health order complaints and quickly cite people who don’t comply.

Until recently, the county health department had been issuing cease-and-desist letters to noncompliant businesses and organizations, with a few shutdown orders.

— PB Monthly staff contributed to this report.