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One of SF’s Most Powerful Billionaires Wants Fines for Mask Law Violations

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Napa County says restaurants that break the rules could face $5,000 citations

TIME 100 Health Summit
Salesforce CEO and SF resident Marc Benioff (right) is pushing for fines and citations for folks who don’t wear masks
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for TIME 100 Health Summit

While many Bay Area counties have announced fines for bars and restaurants that fail to enforce mask and social distancing laws, San Francisco officials said Wednesday that their enforcement policy for businesses is focused on “education,” not citations. But with one of the city’s most politically-connected billionaires — Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff — calling for financial penalties for scofflaws, that stance might change in coming weeks.

Face coverings have been legally required at the state level since mid-June and individual counties like San Francisco and Contra Costa have even stricter rules around mask wear. But many folks fail to follow those rules, violating social distancing, contact, and face covering laws as they gather, dine out, and drink.

That is, perhaps, why fines for businesses and citizens who violate mask laws have gained favor in recent days. Yolo County recently announced fines of up to $10,000 for restaurants and other businesses that break face covering rules, for example, and Napa County announced Wednesday that businesses that don’t enforce mask and social distancing laws would face $5,000 fines. (Private citizens could be hit with $25–500 in fines in Napa, FYI.)

“It’s pretty much complaint-driven,” Napa City Manager Steve Potter told ABC 7 about the enforcement plan. “We will have a contact number. Email. Do a follow up for education...We might do a second phone call. Then there might be a fine.”

While some restaurant owners, like Oenotri’s Tyler Roddee, welcome more pressure on patrons who refuse to socially distance or cover their faces, he tells ABC 7 that the law, as it stands, isn’t ideal. “Now, we are still the enforcers,” he says of workers at bars and restaurants. “While that may make people feel better it doesn’t work for us. It doesn’t change the situation.”

The expectation that food service venues act as enforcers of health orders has been an issue since the beginning of the pandemic, with restaurant workers telling Eater SF last month that role of mask cop is the last thing their already stressed staffs need.

Other industry voices, like Laurie Thomas, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), say it’s all part of the job. “This is an unusual period, and we’re all functioning adults,” Thomas told Eater SF in April. “In other circumstances, if a patron was behaving non-functionally, we wouldn’t hesitate to ask them to leave.”

The stress unmasked patrons cause restaurant workers has also encouraged Contra Costa County officials to mull fines for defiant diners. Ben Magnus, who works at a bakery in the East Bay region, tells NBC Bay Area that “working here, I am not here to battle one’s opinion,” and that confronting customers who refuse to take precautions is an unpleasant task. “I just want to serve them cookies,” he says, “so that’s tough, that’s tough.” As a result of these scofflaws, the county’s Board of Supervisors is set to vote on a fine structure for individual violators next week.

Marin County isn’t at the point where it’s ready to write tickets, but it’s renewed a call for residents to report businesses that aren’t enforcing the rules. SIPViolation@MarinCounty.org is the address to email when one sees violations at bars, restaurants, or other businesses, KPIX reports — not “someone walking down the street without a mask on.”

In San Francisco, officials have, since the pandemic began, encouraged residents to report rule-breaking restaurants and other businesses via 311. After that, an inspector might come out to warn the restaurant and help bring them into compliance. At a media event Wednesday, Eater SF asked city Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax if the city has considered more serious measures, such as citations, for restaurants where social distancing and mask rules aren’t enforced.

“If you’re outdoors and dining and drinking and not adhering to the masking and social distancing rules, of course transmission is at a higher risk,” Colfax said in response. But while the agency is “looking at increased enforcement” for bars, restaurants, and other businesses, the agency said it’s not considering enforcement for individuals who break the rules — nor were specific fines like those in Yolo, Napa, or Contra Costa counties mentioned as an option.

That would change if Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has his way. The politically connected San Francisco billionaire’s vocal support is largely credited with the passage of Proposition C, an (until his involvement) underdog measure to levy taxes on large companies to fund services for homeless people. Now he’s lending his voice to another crusade: fines for mask law violations.

“At some point, the government has to step in and say, ‘Yes, you have to wear a mask, and if you’re not wearing a mask, you’re going to get fined,’” Benioff told CNN Business Wednesday. “Just like if you don’t wear a seat belt, you get a fine.” He expressed similar sentiments during an appearance on CNBC that same day.

Benioff’s also a prolific Twitter user, with over a million followers. He’s now taken to that platform repeat his frustration with mask scofflaws several times in the past day. It’s a very similar playbook to the one Benioff followed in 2018, when his intense campaigning brought Prop C over the finish line — and if Benioff remains true to form, his advocacy for increased enforcement of mask use will only get louder and louder, with a particular focus on his hometown.

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