L.A. City Council delays vote on COVID vaccine proof mandate for indoor restaurants, gyms, malls

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Los Angeles City Council members on Wednesday largely spoke in support of a proposed law requiring customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter a wide variety of indoor venues, setting the stage for a major change to the daily lives of Angelenos.

Under the ordinance, patrons will have to show proof of full vaccination at indoor areas including restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, convention centers, card rooms, museums, malls, play areas, spas and salons in the city beginning Nov. 4.

The city’s law would expand on a countywide order that was already set to begin requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, nightclubs, lounges and mega outdoor events by Oct. 7.

The City Council was planning to vote on the law on Wednesday, but mayoral candidate Councilman Joe Buscaino withheld his vote, saying “unenforceable laws are ridiculous.” Since the ordinance wasn’t backed unanimously, the council is now set to vote on it next week, when it can pass with a majority vote.

“Despite an attempt to not move this forward, this Council will vote to approve the ordinance next week,” L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez said in a statement. 

Wednesday’s discussion came more than a month after the City Council first directed the city attorney to draft the ordinance.

Martinez, who introduced the motion, said there are still too many unvaccinated residents and hospitals are again filling up with COVID-19 patients — despite months of pushing Angelenos to get the shots that brought a wave of optimism when they first arrived.

“We’re getting tired of protecting people who do not want to protect themselves and get vaccinated,” Martinez said at a news conference Wednesday.

Martinez said the mandate is intended to limit transmission of the virus and make sure that “we do make it inconvenient for those who do not want to get vaccinated and want to have access to indoor venues.”

“We have spent too much time placing restrictions on people who are doing their part and getting vaccinated and wearing their mask,” she added.

The proposed city law would also require those attending outdoor events with crowds of 5,000 or more to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test. That’s stricter than the county’s rule, which will require vaccine verification at outdoor mega events with more than 10,000 people.

There are exemptions to the city’s requirements: Those who self-attest to having a medical or religious reason for not getting vaccinated can instead provide a negative coronavirus test taken during the 72 hours before entering an indoor space.

Those who aren’t vaccinated and don’t qualify for an exemption can still opt to use outdoor areas of the venues. And they can be allowed to briefly go inside the location to use the restroom, order or pick up an item if they’re masked.

“No one is forcing anyone to get vaccinated,” Martinez said. “But if you don’t, there are certain things you will not be able to do without showing proof of vaccination.”

Venues can be issued a citation for not implementing the requirement, and may be fined $1,000 for a second violation, and even more for subsequent violations, according to the city’s ordinance.

During the City Council meeting, Buscaino said he was hesitant to support the ordinance since it doesn’t align with current county restrictions and could cause confusion. How the law would be enforced was also an issue, with Buscaino asking for more information on the matter as he withheld his vote.

The council was told that there was currently no department that would have the authority to enforce the vaccine proof law, but that Department of Building and Safety was being considered — though it doesn’t currently have enough staff.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who supports the ordinance, also expressed some concerns.

“We have to make it something that is going to be enforceable, and that is not going to put unnecessary, unproductive burdens on our business community at a time that we are trying to recover, still, from a pandemic-related economic catastrophe,” he said.

Buscaino said he was concerned that having essential workers enforce the ordinance at businesses may place them in harm’s way.

“Making a teenager who with no formal training, serve as a bouncer, to keep people in or out of a restaurant and then fining the business for their failure is not the way to go about it,” the councilman said.

Martinez had previously said that officials worked with local businesses on best practices for implementing the requirements and there’s hasn’t been much pushback. “The last thing we want to do is to shut down any more businesses or have another round of a surge, where we’re having to make those calls — businesses recognize that,“ she said.

Some restaurants and bars throughout L.A. County has already started requiring customers to show proof that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 weeks ago.

“People who are playing by the rules, the people who have been vaccinated, deserve to go back to normal,” Martinez said. “It is unfair to continue to put everyone else’s lives on pause because some won’t listen to science, data, and the facts.”

So far, just 69% of L.A. County residents over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, according to county data.

L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said targeted vaccine verification requirements “will position us to be better able to break the cycle of surges.”

“The reality is we’re not back to normal,” Ferrer said at Wednesday’s news conference. “There remains too many opportunities for the virus to spread and for new variants of concern to take hold.”

The health director said the vaccine proof requirements are important prevention strategies as the county aims to lower virus transmission and up vaccination coverage.

“Waiting until spread is high again before acting doesn’t reflect on the reality of this pandemic and the destructive potential of this virus,” Ferrer said.

After next week’s vote, the city’s ordinance will then head to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s desk.

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