On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city would be going to new lengths to enforce social distancing measures. Starting Friday, August 7, all large house parties will be cancelled. Garcetti has ordered the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to shut off the utilities of houses that host “large parties and gatherings in flagrant violations of health orders.”
When the first round of COVID-19 lockdowns commenced, Gov. Newsom closed down all nonessential businesses. He shut down leisurely activities, such as bars and clubs, to slow the spread of the virus. But people have continued partying at their homes freely, in spite of largely unenforced social distancing mandates. On Monday, at one such party, attended by over 200 people, a woman lost her life in a shooting. This attracted the city government’s increased scrutiny. It is on the tail of this incident that the Los Angeles mayor has announced his present order.
The mayor’s plan assigns county health inspectors to be on the lookout for houses that disobey the mandate. Garcetti instructed them to focus particularly on households that do so repeatedly. Only large house parties will be cancelled. Such events are often easily noticeable from noise or cars parked outside the house in question. In addition to having utilities cut off, the health department clarified that offenders could face fines or jail time too. The mayor noted, “These large house parties have essentially become nightclubs in the hills.” Large parties pose a viable risk of becoming superspreader events. Because of this, shutting down bars and clubs will accomplish little if large parties continue.
Also on Wednesday, City Council Chairman David Ryu introduced a motion to create more drastic penalties for individuals who host large parties at their houses. In addition to shutting off utilities, Ryu’s proposal offers permit prohibitions and revocations of certificates of occupancy as new options for punishment.
Ryu justified such measures by claiming that these large gatherings violate COVID-19 health orders as well as the city’s 2018 party house ordinance. The fact that these new measures are meant to enforce existing law and carry out an emergency mandate is significant. It will likely protect the city government from lawsuits for infringing upon the liberties of the people.
The ease with which Garcetti and Chairman Ryu have criminalized an act so innocuous as a house party is unsettling. Even more unnerving, though, is the city’s readiness and willingness to actually enforce such a mandate. Those who support the mayor’s actions should keep in mind that power is of an encroaching nature. The new power wielded by Mayor Garcetti and mayors and governors across the country is great indeed. And there is no guarantee that they or their successors will relinquish it in the future.