Basketball players, without masks, who bumped up against each other during a game. Construction workers sitting within a foot of each other during a lunch break. A restaurant cook wearing his mask below his nose while he worked.
Marin residents sent county officials more than 250 complaints about people violating public health rules over the course of two weeks in July, according to documents obtained by the Independent Journal through a public records request.
The written complaints were sent to an email account that county officials set up last month to solicit tips about people breaking rules aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.
“Those wishing to report a public health order violation by a business can submit their concerns to SIPViolation@marincounty.org,” a Marin County announcement said on July 10. “Please include the business name, address, and as much detail as possible regarding the perceived health order violation. Reports will be forwarded to the appropriate governing agency for review and investigation.”
In responding to the IJ’s records request, county officials declined to disclose the names of people who wrote to the email address.
“We are concerned that disclosure would have a chilling effect and thus reduce the number of complaints we receive,” said Assistant County Counsel Renee Brewer. She added that officials are also “concerned that if the identities were disclosed those individuals may be subjected to retaliation or harassment.”
About two-thirds of the tips sent to the email address between July 10 and July 23 were about businesses breaking public health rules, including more than two dozen complaints about restaurants and five about grocery stores.
Some tipsters said restaurants had set up outdoor tables that were less than 6 feet apart. Some reported landscapers working without masks on. One tipster said another customer stood too close to him while he was waiting in line to buy coffee, and the employees at the coffee shop did nothing to prevent the lack of social distancing.
Four complaints were about churches holding services and six were about summer camps not following health protocols.
In some cases, people sent tips about activities that didn’t violate Marin’s coronavirus regulations, officials said.
Almost 50 complaints were about vacation rentals operating despite a temporary ban on short-term rentals under Marin’s “shelter in place” order. The ban makes an exception only for “essential workers” using vacation rentals.
Tipsters reported that their neighbors were running vacation rentals in San Rafael, Mill Valley and West Marin, among other parts of the county. More than a dozen complaints were about short-term rentals in Dillon Beach.
“All you have to do is look at VRBO and Airbnb and you’ll see Dillon Beach short-term rentals are sold out on a regular basis,” one person wrote. “Sometimes 12 to 15 vacationers crammed into one home after the other as we residents (shelter in place).”
Although county officials said the intention of the email account is to collect complaints about businesses breaking rules, almost a dozen people reported parties or concerts, and more than two dozen reported people playing sports or exercising in groups.
About 30 complaints pointed out people not wearing masks in public or not maintaining 6 feet of distance, and half of those were about people on trails or in parks.
Six people wrote in with grievances about the county soliciting complaints.
“It’s terrible trying to set neighbor against neighbor,” one person wrote.
The email account was set up as part of a plan to crack down on people violating public health rules. But the tips so far have resulted in very few citations, said Assistant County Administrator Angela Nicholson.
The county Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance last month that allows Marin’s county, city and town government workers to cite violators, rather than relying on police officers and sheriff’s deputies to enforce the regulations. The ordinance also set fines for rule violations. Fines range from $25 to $500 for people violating state or county health orders, and from $250 to $10,000 for businesses breaking rules.
Marin County plans to convene a “task force” of government workers charged with issuing citations, but the plan hasn’t yet materialized, according to Nicholson.
“It’s been a slow process,” she said.
As of Friday, the county had received 52 complaints about vacation rentals, but the county hasn’t shut any of them down, she said. A handful of businesses have been cited for being “completely out of compliance” with county regulations, she added.