The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest threat to the health and lives of Americans since the Flu Epidemic of 1918 — or is it.
Manteca along with virtually every other government jurisdiction keeps sending out mixed messages. At least Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu isn’t hitting the YMCA for a workout that would be illegal for the masses like New York Mayor Bill Blasio has done more than once after declaring fitness centers off limits during the pandemic.
This week the Manteca Council approved an emergency ordinance to establish $1,000 fines through the administrative law process for violations of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Keep in mind this is coming almost two months after the city declared a local emergency and on the same week the governor has started the process of allowing businesses he ordered closed to start reopening.
It was done after staff repeatedly emphasized every one they’ve come across that has been in violation of stay-at-home rules and have asked to comply have done so. They also repeatedly stressed that the citation wouldn’t be issued until after officers have had up to four encounters with the same person for the same violation and then it would be at the officer’s discretion.
So which one is it? Is everyone really complying? And will everyone who is a chronic offender get cited or will every one of the department’s 75 officers have the option to do as they please in regards to lawful orders that have been imposed during the longest ever running national emergency?
And if violating the stay-at-home orders is a clear threat to public health and doing so your conduct could essentially be deemed as contributing to someone’s death or for a person getting so ill their health is compromised for the rest of their lives, why aren’t officers actively patrolling the streets looking for lawbreakers much as they do for speeders and those texting while driving?
We are told it is to add another enforcement tool to the Manteca Police Department’s toolbox just in case it’s needed. Try to keep an eye on the upcoming budget assuming it is not going to be adopted away from the public’s eye due to the pandemic emergency. You might just see an item to purchase a helicopter for the police department so they can have another tool at their disposal just in case it is needed.
The truth is there are already a lot of non-essential businesses — as defined by the man behind the mask deal of the century Gavin “Billion Dollar Pocket Change” Newsom — that have reopened in Manteca as well as nearby cities such as Ripon.
Do you want to take a guess at who the $1,000 citations will be used on? They are the same people that the city contends compiles when they are told not to be open due to stay-at-home orders.
So you may think to yourself, that it is only fair that they get fined since they are violating orders. Let’s be clear what is going on here. By relegating non-compliance with stay-at-home orders to the administrative law system and yanking it from the criminal justice system the City of Manteca has reduced violations to the level of code enforcement.
And we all know how fair and balanced the city is with code enforcement.
That’s because the city relies on the Manteca system of justice known as Rat Fink Justice.
This means a police officer could drive by Scores and see 100 people standing in line a foot apart waiting to get in to have their hair cut even though such shops are non-essential and can’t legally be open. Unless someone complains the officer won’t intercede.
But if someone complains that a single mom has reopened her one-chair hair salon on Northgate Drive, police will respond and educate her to get her to close. But if she argues stridently and gets a bit upset and passionately pleading that she is desperate to feed her kids, they could issue her a $1,000 citation.
It gets worse. If on the way to the Northgate location the responding officer passed a barber shop on Yosemite Avenue and a styling salon on Main Street in downtown that was open they would not go back and “educate” them to close as well. Instead enforcement is 100 percent complaint driven.
That is the exact model Manteca has used for more than three decades for code enforcement and that is exactly what they have told the public they will do in enforcing rules regarding stay-at-home and social distancing.
The City Council is doing no one favors except the city itself when it bought into staff’s rationale that the administrative law citation is easier on a person receiving it than a criminal misdemeanor ticket as they would avoid jail time.
The City Council apparently has forgotten Manteca is in San Joaquin County where you have a better chance of winning a $380 million Power Ball jackpot than spending time in jail for being convicted of a misdemeanor.
Any when they queried staff about how successful the administrative law process has been at addressing illegal fireworks they very conveniently got a half answer. The reason it is more effective is the low priority and lack of stomach the court system had for prosecuting misdemeanors regarding fireworks. They also failed to elaborate on what misdemeanor cases the city succeed in getting prosecuted, court justices often do not impose full fines or elect for community service. That was not the case with administrative law judges that sided 100 percent with the city and imposed the full $1,000 fine plus allowed the city to recover costs for manpower involved in citing and prosecuting people.
Do not take this as a criticism of the city’s effort to make sure Manteca is not the California version of Kabul every time the first week of July rolls around. Instead zero in on the blanket shutdown of much of the economy and our lives by government order in response to a clear and present danger in the form of the COVID-19 virus.
Yet the city chooses to treat it as if it were an issue over the height of a fence and it is setback far enough from the sidewalk while at the same time assuring whatever citations are issued will drum up an almost guaranteed $1,000 in short order as opposed to the misdemeanor process that often poses no more of a threat than a serious paper cut.
The city has made it clear they do not view the COVID-19 pandemic as a legitimate public health emergency given they are relying on the Rat Fink Justice model to deploy officers to stop behavior the state and county has declared illegal given the pressing need that’s been declared to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
And if you get rat finked out enough, the city might just reward you with a $1,000 fine even if 20 other people in Manteca are doing the same thing in a public enough manner that the Manteca Police couldn’t help but notice it.