City Hall

The Sonora City Council will consider fines for non-essential businesses not following the California state health officer’s March 19 stay-at-home order in response to a “surge” of people from outside of Tuolumne County coming to the area.

City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga explained that the fines would not apply to individuals who might, for example, be outdoors to get some fresh air or exercise. She said it’s intended for non-essential businesses that may be encouraging non-residents to come to Tuolumne County.

“We’re seeing a surge in people from outside of the county, and our health care system can’t handle that,” she said. 

If approved, the fines could be enforced by the city administrator, police chief, or any of their designees, starting with a written or verbal warning before becoming a violation.

A violation would result in a $250 for the first offense, $500 for a second, and $1,000 for a third, but does not preclude the city from imposing criminal penalties under state law or the ordinance if necessary.

Rutikanga said the city does not want to have to do any enforcement and would first try to educate anyone violating the ordinance about the rules of the state’s stay-at-home order, but she didn’t cite any specific businesses in the city that are out of compliance.

“Our businesses are really complying with the orders, so we thank them for that,” she said. “This just provides some teeth if there are any businesses that aren’t complying and encouraging people to come here.”

The meeting is scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. Monday, but the public will not be allowed to attend in person at City Hall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There will be an option to participate and view the meeting via the video conferencing app Zoom (see box for more details).

At the meeting, the council will also consider other COVID-19-related actions that include designating the city’s public health office duties to the county health officer and an ordinance banning “non-essential” short-term lodging rentals for the duration of the emergency.

Interim County Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko also issued a local health order on Friday clarifying the state orders’ rules on short-term lodging, which prohibit commercial operations other than to house the homeless or people displaced by the virus and workers performing essential functions to maintain critical infrastructure and services.

Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita issued a similar clarification a week earlier on March 27. 

The council will also consider an item not related to COVID-19 that would allow emergency shelters with 16 beds or less in the R-3 multifamily residential zoning district without a public hearing and conditional use permit through the city Planning Commission or council.

State law requires the city to identify a zoning district where such shelters would be allowed as a “use allowed by right,” which means it would still have to comply with city zoning codes and other requirements but the approval would be done at a staff level without public notice.

City staff says approving the change is important because otherwise the state could withhold critical funding or make the city ineligible for grants.

At a meeting on March 9, the commission approved the change by a 4-1 vote but requested text be inserted to require verification of property insurance for emergency shelters. Commissioner Gary Anderson voted in opposition.

 

Contact Alex Maclean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 768-5175.

 

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