LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles Councilman John Lee has said he will not support an ordinance requested by the city council to require people to show proof of at least partial vaccination against COVID-19 to enter many public indoor spaces in the city, which will delay the ordinance’s likely approval.
The motion to request the ordinance passed the city council 13–0, with Councilmen John Lee and Joe Buscaino absent. Lee was absent during the meeting because he was exposed to COVID-19 and was experiencing symptoms, but said he tested negative for the virus. Lee’s office said on Aug. 13 that the councilman continues to test negative.
Lee’s opposition to the ordinance means it won’t pass on its first consideration, and approval will be delayed an additional week, as ordinances need unanimous approval by the city council. A majority of the city council, which is what is needed to pass the ordinance on its second consideration, has expressed support for the policy.
The City Attorney’s Office said on Aug. 13 that it’s working with other city departments that are supplying additional information for the ordinance, and once that’s received, it will complete drafting a final ordinance. It wasn’t immediately clear when it would be ready for a vote.
In an email to constituents, Lee said the proposal was “arbitrary, inconsistent and would essentially be ineffective.”
“While I agree with my colleagues who authored this motion that vaccinations are the most effective tool we have in the fight against COVID-19, this proposal is not the way,” Lee said.
“At a time when we need to move forward together to combat the virus, this measure may only deepen divides without addressing the heart of the matter—getting people vaccinated.”
The motion to request an ordinance from the city attorney was introduced by Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.
It was seconded by Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
“COVID-19 could be eradicated if we had mass vaccinations across the country and across the world,” O’Farrell claimed at the meeting.
“This is not a vaccine mandate … we’re not going to deny anyone the ability to access essentials, food, medicine, etc., regardless of vaccination.”
The ordinance would be similar to a policy announced in New York City and San Francisco, but would be more restrictive with the inclusion of retail establishments.
The Los Angeles City Council’s motion also instructed the chief legislative analyst to work with the Economic Workforce and Development Department and the City Attorney’s Office to decide what types of public spaces should be included using input from businesses, business organizations, and council offices.
It also instructed the chief legislative analyst to work with the Community Investment for Families Department and the city attorney to solicit input from parents, parent groups, teachers, pediatricians, nonprofit organizations, and businesses that deliver child care services to receive information on best practices for protecting children under 12 years old, as this age group is not eligible for the vaccine.
Several people called in to the city council meeting to oppose the potential ordinance, some claiming that the vaccines were deadly themselves, and others saying it was a form of “segregation” and comparing it to the Holocaust.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who said he was offended by the latter comparison, responded, “When you ask someone for their papers for the purpose of sending them to a death camp, that is the exact opposite of asking for proof of vaccination so we can save lives, it is the opposite.”
Martinez said before the vote on Aug. 11: “I want to be very clear about something, and I’ve heard this on social media and people who call in that they have a right to not access the vaccine or not get vaccinated. Unfortunately, that argument just doesn’t work for me.
“You not being vaccinated actually impacts the health of everyone else. So that argument that you have the right to not access the vaccine or get vaccinated just doesn’t work anymore.”
Buscaino, who was absent from the vote along with Lee, said in a statement last week, “We must do everything in our power to avoid another shutdown. The rapid increase in cases means that we have to use every tool available to protect our neighbors and our economy.”
His office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on whether Buscaino would vote to approve the ordinance.
Before the city council’s vote, Lee didn’t explicitly say how he would have voted on the motion, but announced that he had concerns, including that it would be difficult to enforce and wouldn’t lead to an increase in vaccinations. He also said it “unfairly penalizes individuals who can’t get vaccinated due to legitimate medical reasons.”