Fresno City Council voted to take decisive action in their local fight against the declared Covid-19 pandemic. They declared that all gatherings exceeding 15 people in attendance shall be stopped when possible, and fines will be imposed on those breaking the restrictions.
The exact wording of the resolution went through several modifications to clarify that the intent is not to limit family gatherings as much as commercial endeavors where backyard concerts and parties are involved. The resolution is the city’s latest tool in efforts to limit large gatherings in Fresno. Current data indicates a less than two percent ICU capacity across San Joaquin Valley.
Initially, proposed fines were $1,000 for the first offense, $2,000, topping off at $10,000. The council was divided 6-1 on the appropriate amount of fines. The matter of exact fines is still under consideration, but the resolution stands firm.
“Over the last two weekends, I have had ten calls of these illegal backyard concerts where there are people that are hiring live bands, charging folks $10 to get in, and offering beer,” said Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez.
To combat clandestine concerts and parties, Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Esmerelda Soria, and Luis Chavez proposed the resolution, hoping to slow the spread of Covid-19 before the scant number of ICU beds further diminishes.
“We are now turning away terminally ill people that come to the hospital to receive help with their breathing apparatus and they are sending them back home because they want to save it for ICU beds, for people that are on a waitlist,” said Chavez.
Fresno City Council members were split on the resolution designed to limit party groups, but leaving family gatherings untouched. Mini concerts and parties being sponsored by a resident are the problem. These parties have become problematic. These events are very specifically targeted; events where attendees are charged a cover fee to attend a concert or party at a residence.
The vote is focused on groups which have numbered more than 50 attendees, explained Council Member Luis Chavez. Initially, the resolution was focusing on any gathering in a home which exceeded 14 people. Any group with 15 or more people present would have been a finable infraction.
The new resolution states that “mass gatherings” are prohibited, further specified as concerts or backyard parties.
Police Chief Andrew Hall and Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp both announced earlier this they would not enforce the orders. However, enforcement would be undertaken by Fresno’s own Code Enforcement department, similar to how businesses have been fined in the past.
“What we have asked of them to do is show up, educate the person. If it continues, send a warning in the mail,” said Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias. “And if it continues and is egregious, send a fine in the mail, and of course residents can challenge those fines through the administrative process.”
Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld, Paul Capriolgio, and Mike Karbassi voted against the resolution. They explained that the city should focus on “education – not writing tickets.”
“Having a fine during Christmas-time, when people are losing their jobs, isn’t really the right kind of message,” said Councilmember Mike Karbassi. “I think we are going to lose the intent.”
Although the resolution passed, it will not go into effect immediately, but will if and when available ICU capacity locally drops lower than it currently stands.
The exact dollar amount of fines has not been approved.
Some residents in Coalinga have expressed concern that Coalinga might follow Fresno’s example and crack down on state wide restrictions as imposed by Governor Gavin Newsom. When last asked for his opinion, Coalinga Police Chief Darren Blevins said he and his team have more pressing issues than people having gatherings in their home.