L.A. sets COVID-19 vaccine proof mandate for indoor sites

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a new ordinance that requires proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter indoor restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, hair and nail salons and many other indoor venues.

The council was scheduled to vote on the law last week but held off when Councilman Joe Buscaino said he would withhold his vote after raising concerns about how the new rules would be enforced.

Buscaino ultimately voted against the ordinance after council members did not agree to several amendments he proposed, including one that would make it a crime to harass or interfere with any employee trying to enforce the rules. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said the amendments were significant and deserved more vetting in council committees before council members could make a “thoughtful” decision.

The vote was 11-2, with Councilman John Lee joining Buscaino in opposing the law. Lee said earlier this year that he had concerns with the plan, arguing that it was “arbitrary and will not lead to increased vaccinations of our residents.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti plans to sign the ordinance into law, spokesman Harrison Wollman said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Under the new law, businesses must require proof of vaccination when customers enter indoor facilities starting on Nov. 4, including coffee shops, gyms, museums, bowling alleys, spas and a range of other venues.

The requirements are set to expire when the city lifts its emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The L.A. rules allow customers to submit written exemptions for religious or medical reasons, but businesses must require those customers to use outdoor facilities, or to show evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test if no outdoor facilities are available. Customers who have no proof of vaccination or exemption can still enter briefly to use the restroom or pick up a takeout order, according to the ordinance.

Businesses that violate the rules can face escalating penalties under the ordinance, starting with a warning for a first violation, then a $1,000 fine for a second violation, eventually reaching a $5,000 penalty for a fourth or subsequent violation. The fines would begin to be enforced starting Nov. 29, according to the ordinance.

L.A. is also requiring proof of vaccination to enter city facilities, although unvaccinated people will be provided “alternative arrangements for access to government services,” which could include online or outdoor services or providing a negative test to enter an indoor facility.

Ahead of the vote, business groups raised concerns about possible confusion because Los Angeles County is imposing its own set of vaccination rules for many local businesses and their customers. The county order already applies within L.A. city limits, but California cities can expand on county orders for vaccine requirements.

The Los Angeles County Business Federation argued the city’s new restrictions would put L.A. businesses at “a competitive disadvantage to other neighboring areas” and raised concerns about how businesses would fight false accusations. The United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley argued that it would be impractical and unreasonable for businesses to post a bouncer at every entrance to verify vaccination.

Other critics who phoned into the council meeting argued that the rules would infringe on their rights, denouncing them as a divisive and unnecessary form of discrimination against unvaccinated people. “I am appalled that the City Council is even putting forth such a draconian, unconstitutional, immoral mandate,” one said in a letter to council members.

Others, however, urged the council to pass the new law. COVID-19 cases have fallen, “but not enough to be safe from another wave triggered by winter gatherings or a new variant,” West Adams resident Daniel Kegel wrote. The vaccination rate has been slowly rising, but “we need to move faster. This motion won’t solve the whole problem, but it will reduce the size of future outbreaks, and help the city get back to normal.”

Council members rejected the idea that the rules were overbearing. “Nothing in this ordinance requires you to go and get vaccinated at all,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said last week. But there are certain places where “you will not be allowed to go to put other people at risk.”

“You have rights. You have liberties. But with those rights and liberties come obligations to protect fellow members of your society as well,” Krekorian said, likening the restrictions to not being allowed to smoke in an elevator or on an airplane.

Council President Nury Martinez told reporters last week that because children too young to be eligible for vaccination continue to face the risks of the virus, “this is no longer negotiable. The stakes are too high.”

COVID-19 cases have been waning in Los Angeles County, but the area is still averaging 14 deaths a day from the virus, according to the public health department. More than 61% of L.A. County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data tracked by the Times.

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About Emma Gorki

Emma Gorki

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