LOS ANGELES (AP) — A vote was abruptly delayed Wednesday on a Los Angeles proposal to impose one of the nation's strictest vaccine mandates to enter indoor businesses and venues, after questions were raised about it creating public confusion and even if it could be enforced.
Members of the Los Angeles City Council generally were supportive on the plan intended to reduce the risk of new surges in the ongoing pandemic, but also acknowledged it was laced with flaws that ranged from who would be subject to fines for violations to whether employees tasked with questioning patrons about their vaccine status could end up in fist-fights.
The ordinance would require patrons at most indoor businesses and venues to be fully vaccinated before entering. It would greatly expand restrictions ordered by Los Angeles County public health officials that are set to take effect next month, potentially creating a confusing system in which different rules could apply in neighboring communities.
The proposal has stark implications for everyday life in the nation's second most populous city. If approved, residents would face a choice: Become fully vaccinated, or be left outside bars, gyms, Los Angeles Lakers games and restaurants.
Business groups complained about the the potential for excessive fines, the challenge of contending with conflicting rules and safety risks for workers being repurposed as vaccine door monitors.
Jot Condie, who heads the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement that the proposal fails to address “the safety risks to our workers, who are expected to enforce a measure that, frankly, brings out the worst in some customers.”
The ordinance is being advanced at a time when virus cases are dropping fast in the county and while political ambitions are in the mix — two council members are running for mayor, as is the city attorney who wrote the proposal.
An expected vote was delayed but the council will consider it again next week, when it could be enacted.
Under the ordinance, people eligible for inoculation would be required to be vaccinated to enter indoor public spaces including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, sports arenas, museums, spas, nail salons, indoor city facilities and other locations. Current eligibility includes people age 12 and up. Negative coronavirus tests within 72 hours of entry to those places will be required for people with religious or medical exemptions for vaccinations.
“This is no longer negotiable, the risks are way too high," Council President Nury Martinez told reporters before the council’s meeting.
Martinez said it is clear that the vaccines work but too many people remain unvaccinated despite widespread vaccine availability and door-to-door campaigns to vaccinate more people. She accused people who refuse to be vaccinated of endangering others, especially the city’s large population of young children who are still ineligible for doses.
During a City Hall meeting, Councilman Joe Buscaino, a candidate for mayor, prodded city analysts to disclose that they are still researching what agency would enforce the ordinance. A likely choice, the Department of Building and Safety, doesn't have the staff to do it, analysts said.
“Unenforceable laws are ridiculous,” he said at one point.
"The ordinance is as clear as mud," he said when questioning analysts about how a shopper would be questioned when entering a mall.
“I'm very worried about the confusion this will create,” Buscaino added, citing the conflicts between city and county rules. "Making a teenager ... 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.”
But most members said they supported the proposal, even if they would need to quickly enact fixes.
“We can't let the perfect get in the way of the good,” said Councilman Kevin de Leon, another mayoral candidate. “We can save lives.”
A growing number of places across the United States, including San Francisco and New York City, are requiring people to show proof of vaccination to enter various types of businesses and venues.
In late summer, New York City began requiring proof of vaccination to dine inside restaurants and bars, or to enter certain types of public places, including museums, theaters, gyms, indoor sports arenas and concert halls.
New York City’s rules do not include malls and other retail businesses. Compliance has been mixed and enforcement purposefully light, with the city favoring initial warnings for violators and fines for repeat offenders.
The previously announced Los Angeles County public health order covers the city and most other communities. It requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for patrons and workers at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, lounges and nightclubs.
The county order begins Oct. 7, with proof of at least one vaccine dose required. By Nov. 4, proof of full vaccination will be mandatory.
The county order also will require proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours for attendees and workers at outdoor events with at least 10,000 people, including at theme parks. The same requirement is already in place for indoor events of 1,000 people or more.
Of the county’s roughly 10 million residents, 66% have received at least one dose of vaccine and 59% are fully vaccinated, according to public health officials.
Los Angeles County is the nation's most populous. It was an epicenter for the virus at the start of the year and saw a summer surge due the delta variant. But in the last month LA County's positivity rate has fallen to 1.4% from a high around 6.5% while the number of hospitalizations has dropped by half to about 900.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, speaking at an unrelated ceremony with Gov. Gavin Newsom, expressed his support.
“I don’t want to bury another city employee, police officer, firefighter,” the mayor said. "People are free not to get the vaccine, but they’re not free to endanger other peoples’ lives.”
Associated Press Writer Robert Jablon contributed.