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Encinitas to launch mask-wearing compliance program 

Encinitas
(Karen Billing)

Sheriff’s deputies will give away facial coverings, educate passersby on weekends in downtown, other crowded areas

Encinitas is going to start sending out Sheriff’s deputies on weekends to distribute free facial coverings and “pleasantly” ask people to cover up in compliance with the county’s public health order.

The new, three-month pilot program, which is estimated to cost $15,000, was unanimously approved Wednesday, Aug. 26, by the City Council. It’ll be similar to programs recently started in Del Mar and Solana Beach, and it could launch as soon as this weekend — just before the busy Labor Day weekend, city employees said.

Deputies will target their distribution spots for places where people typically congregate, including the downtown and the city’s beach access staircases.

Though coronavirus case numbers have been decreasing recently in San Diego County, the pandemic is not over and wearing face masks appears to help stop the spread of airborne droplets, Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said as he listed the benefits of starting the pilot project.

Council members said they ought to approve the proposal, given how many residents are urging them to increase compliance with the county health order.

“This request comes so frequently from our community members that we can’t ignore it any more,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said.

However, the one community member who spoke to the council on the issue Wednesday, Aug. 26, said the money could be better spent.

Jim Moser, who said he’s lived in Encinitas for 34 years, told council members that they should use the money to help people hurt financially by the pandemic, including people who need housing and food assistance, and added that the Sheriff’s Department shouldn’t be involved at all.

“The Sheriff’s deputies, I think, have more important tasks on their plate,” he said.

Council members said they wanted to use Sheriff’s deputies, who will work four-hour shifts, because they have the training to deal with people who might be confrontational when asked to wear a mask. They also have the authority to cite people if needed, they said. However, they stressed, the pilot project will primarily be an education program, not a citation-focused one.

“I want it to start with education, I want it to be a pleasant conversation,” said Councilwoman Jody Hubbard.

Hubbard, who has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, said she has done a great deal of research on masks and she asked the deputies to inform people not to use the face masks with the circular breathing valves in the front. Those masks don’t protect anyone nearby because they don’t filter out the virus, she noted.

Hinze said she expects most people will gladly accept the free masks from the deputies and cover up without complaint. She knows this first-hand because she’s been leading a community volunteer effort to distribute free masks at Moonlight Beach since the weekend before the Fourth of July, she said.

“I’d say 90 percent of the people who come out there without masks don’t know that they’re supposed to be wearing it (at the beach),” she said, later adding that she’d love to recruit more volunteers to help with the beach distribution program in the coming weeks.

Since there’s already a free mask distribution effort happening at the beach, the deputies will be asked to focus on getting compliance in other places, including the downtown, the city’s beach staircases and businesses where violations have been reported, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.

In other action Wednesday night, Aug. 26, the council:

  • Gave its initial approval to a new ordinance, recommended by the city’s Youth Commission, that will prohibit the sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products. Similar ordinances are being considered in other municipalities and at the state level.
  • Gave initial approval to a sidewalk zoning ordinance spelling out where such businesses can set up shop. The new rules, which will establish distance and location limits on vendors, are needed because of a recent change in state law, city employees said.
  • Put a temporary halt on stop sign installations to allow city staff time to draw up some new public noticing standards.
    —- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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