A proposal to impose one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates on Los Angeles was supposed to be voted on Wednesday but was delayed a week following debate among city councilors who generally support the idea but acknowledged the plan as written is flawed and there are questions about enforcement.
The ordinance would require patrons at most indoor businesses and venues to be fully vaccinated before entering. It would greatly expand restrictions ordered by Los Angeles County public health officials that are set to take effect next month, potentially creating a confusing system in which different rules could apply in neighboring communities.
Business groups complained about the the potential for excessive fines, conflicting rules and safety risks for workers tasked with questioning patrons about their vaccine status.
The ordinance is being advanced at a time when virus cases are dropping fast in the county and political ambitions are in the mix — two council members are running for mayor, as is the city attorney who wrote the proposal. The council will consider it again next week, when it could be enacted.
Under the ordinance, people eligible for inoculation would be required to be vaccinated to enter indoor public spaces including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, sports arenas, museums, spas, nail salons, indoor city facilities and other locations. Current eligibility includes people age 12 and up. Negative coronavirus tests within 72 hours of entry to those places will be required for people with religious or medical exemptions for vaccinations.
“This is no longer negotiable, the risks are way too high,” Council President Nury Martinez told reporters before the council’s meeting.
Under questioning by Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is a candidate for mayor, city analysts said they were still researching what agency would enforce the ordinance. A likely candidate, the city Department of Building and Safety, doesn’t have the staff to do it, analysts said.
Buscaino said at one point: “Unenforceable laws are ridiculous.”
But most members said they supported the proposal, even if they would need to quickly enact fixes.
“We can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” said Councilman Kevin de Leon, another mayoral candidate. “We can save lives.”
A growing number of places across the United States, including San Francisco and New York City, are requiring people to show proof of vaccination to enter various types of businesses and venues.
In late summer, New York City began requiring proof of vaccination to dine inside restaurants and bars, or to enter certain types of public places, including museums, theaters, gyms, indoor sports arenas and concert halls.
New York City’s rules do not include malls and other retail businesses. Compliance has been mixed and enforcement purposefully light, with the city favoring initial warnings for violators and fines for repeat offenders.
The previously announced Los Angeles County public health order covers the city and most other communities. It requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for patrons and workers at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, lounges and nightclubs.
Los Angeles County is the nation’s most populous with about 10 million residents. It was an epicenter for the virus at the start of the year and saw a summer surge due the delta variant. But in the last month LA County’s positivity rate has fallen to 1.4% from a high around 6.5% while the number of hospitalizations has dropped by half to about 900.