SAN BENITO — City officials are tightening up their enforcement of state and local orders, mandating residents stay home while limiting public and private gatherings and closing parks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier this week, city commissioners extended the city’s declaration of disaster stemming from the coronavirus crisis, extending the shelter-in-place order and other mandates through April 30 while setting fines of up to $500 per violation.
The revised order gives city officials power to quarantine residents while controlling their movement.
“Violation of this order constitutes an imminent threat to public health,” the order signed by Mayor Ben Gomez during a Tuesday meeting states.
During the meeting, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa requested officials toughen up their enforcement of the shelter-in-place order complementing a county-wide curfew running from midnight to 5 a.m.
De La Rosa told commissioners residents are gathering at parks, which the city had closed to comply with federal guidelines and local and state orders aimed at limiting gathering sizes and promoting social distancing to prevent the virus’ spread.
“The police department continues to interact with individuals in the parks at late hours, even beyond what is typical for us,” De La Rosa told commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting. “The parks close at 10 — we have people at 11 o’clock, 2 a.m., 4 a.m.”
Meanwhile, the extended order sets penalties for violations, he said.
“It now creates a penalty. We will no longer ask you. There will no longer be policing action if you fail to leave the park,” he told commissioners. “Now, if you’re there and you don’t leave, it now becomes criminal in nature. There is a penalty for noncompliance. I have the full faith and confidence in our police department to ask you to disperse … and if not they take whatever enforcement action is necessary.”
The order’s powers
The revised order went into effect at 7:13 p.m. Tuesday.
“This declaration authorizes the city to take any action necessary to promote health and suppress the virus, including the quarantine of persons and occupied structures, examining and regulating hospitals, regulating ingress and egress from the city, regulating ingress and egress to occupied structures and further authorizes the city to take all necessary actions to enforce this declaration,” the order states.
The order restricts gatherings on public and private property.
“This declaration hereby orders the postponement or cancellation of all events or gatherings of 10 or more persons and shall be applicable on private and public properties,” the order states.
The order also closes parks “until further notice.”
Meanwhile, it sets fines of up to $500 per violation.
“This does not limit or curtail additional civil or criminal penalties under the Texas Health and Safety Code or the Texas Penal Code,” the order states.
Last week, interim Police Chief Fred Bell stated officers are issuing citations and written warnings for shelter-in-place violations.
Bell also warned he was increasing police patrols.
Meanwhile, officers have used their speaker systems “to notify people of the order,” he stated.