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San Luis Obispo police issuing citations to COVID-19 scofflaws

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in SLO County, the city of San Luis Obispo says it’ll be stepping up enforcement to ensure people are complying with public health bans on gatherings and other pandemic-related restrictions.

Typically, SLOPD enacts what's called a "safety enhancement zone' around holidays such as Halloween, when college students are likely to hold parties, but now the designation has been in effect since April citywide. 

“Especially with the rise, we are seeing that second wave come through," said Lt. John Villanti with SLOPD. "I don’t see that going away anytime soon.”

Villanti said with the enhancement zone, they don’t give warnings, and citations for party-related violations—like noise, gatherings and alcohol—are doubled.

“The first violation is $700, where normally its $350," Villanti said. "The second one is a $1,000 and each one after that is $1,000,” Villanti said.

While officers do patrol for any signs of large gatherings, they mostly rely on neighbors to report. But determining if a gathering is breaking pandemic rules isn’t always clear-cut.

“They are usually roommates," Villanti said. "You know how our houses are in San Luis—some of them have six to eight folks living in them—so they are within their own family per se, so they aren’t doing anything illegal as far as the health order goes.”

But still, large gatherings that are breaking the rules continue.

“In September, we wrote 55 noise citations, October we wrote 59, and in November we’ve written 9,” Villanti said.

Besides looking out for parties, SLOPD is keeping an extra eye downtown, working with business owners to ensure they are following capacity rules, and enforcing social distancing in long lines that may form outside.

But Villanti said SLOPD needs the community's help to ensure rules are being followed. 

“ We can’t get through this without the public's help," Villanti said. "Because there are only 60 of us and there’s 60,000 community members.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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