The City of Fullerton will implement new restrictions requiring customers and employees at retail businesses to wear masks after a tight, 3-2 city council vote on Tuesday night.
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The council chose to adapt the county board of supervisors’ mask requirements that were approved earlier on Tuesday morning, which stipulate that retail business employees wear a cloth mask, but doesn’t require patrons to follow suit.
While the entire council was in favor or approving a proclamation echoing the county’s decision, the vote came down to whether or not to mandate the requirements for residents.
The primary point councilmembers made to justify the requirements for shoppers was the protection of the employees who are required to interact with hundreds of customers on a daily basis.
“Most of the people, eight out of ten people are wearing masks, but there’s always those two who are not and they seem to take great pride in that,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Jan Flory. “When they’re in the grocery store and pharmacy bumping up against clerks who have to be there we should err on the side of caution.”
Opponents of the motion argued that it wasn’t the role of local government to enforce what customers have to wear in private businesses, and that those businesses have the right to refuse service to customers without a mask.
“I can’t support what you’re asking for. I think we should follow the lead of the county health agency and follow their measure, I’m not going to mandate what businesses insist their patrons do,” said Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald. “I believe consumers can make those choices on their own.”
Councilman Bruce Whitaker also argued that requiring the masks wouldn’t make a massive difference and said the city should be trying to work with citizens rather than through mandates.
“It’s going to be an honor system pretty much,” Whitaker said. “We can be kind or we can be harsh, those are the options.”
Flory worried that without the order, businesses could be afraid to turn away patrons.
“We’re giving cover to those businesses who feel nervous about turning people away, they can say a local ordinance prevents it. I think we’re helping them out,” Flory said.
“Based on the calls I’ve received, the majority of Fullertonians want this,” said Councilman Jesus Silva, mentioning that despite protests in Huntington Beach, San Clemente, and Newport Beach of “frustrated” residents, the majority of people wanted stricter regulation.
“We’re going to agree to disagree here, but I’m going to stand where our residents have instructed us to go.”
Fullerton’s decision follows multiple debates across the county as cities have been split on what measures to take in mandating the use of facemasks.
Cities including Santa Ana and Westminster chose to only apply enforcement to employers and workers in essential businesses. Residents in those cities are only encouraged to cover up in accordance with county health agency guidelines.
In Buena Park, both residents and businesses are required to cover up when out in public, with violations enforced with administrative fines.
There was little discussion of implementing a city-wide ban in Fullerton, with multiple members indicating they didn’t think it was the right move.
“I know some cities have put in harsh requirements, I think at this point we should follow the county and I’d like to add the patrons as well,” said Councilman Ahmad Zahra, the sponsor of the motion in Fullerton.
One of the primary arguments from councilmembers against a mandate requiring masks has been the pressure on law enforcement to mandate the new rules.
Buena Park City Councilwoman Beth Swift called the new regulations “overkill,” stating that while she wore a mask when she went out, it would be a waste of time for police officers to enforce that.
“I don’t want people feeling like big brother’s going to bop them over the head if they’re not wearing a face covering,” Swift said.
Irvine and Costa Mesa implemented requirements similar to Fullerton’s, requiring masks in essential businesses but not taking the step to require them in all public places.
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea stated that enforcing all citizens wear a mask would require a massive amount of police effort and would require an expansion of the police force to handle the additional workload.
The mask orders from both Fullerton and the county will go into effect on Friday, and last through May 24.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.