New LA Vaccination Mandate At Shopping Centers Could Help Or Hurt Retailers

The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-2 Wednesday to require entrants to indoor venues including restaurants, malls, gyms, movie theaters and coffee shops to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19. There was little discussion about the vote during Wednesday’s council meeting, a contrast to when the matter was first heard last week.

“We need to both limit the transmission of the virus as well as make it inconvenient for those who are unvaccinated to access indoor venues and put lives in jeopardy,” Council President Nury Martinez said last week, explaining why she felt the council should approve the measure.

Though the council passed the ordinance requiring vaccination proof to enter these indoor venues, many council members expressed concern about how the rules would be enforced and by whom, as well as the potential for confusion for owners, staff and patrons that could be created by the city having stricter rules than Los Angeles County about which establishments need to require proof of vaccination.

The vote was originally scheduled for Sept. 29, but it was put off when Council Member Joe Buscaino withheld his vote over these and other concerns. Buscaino and Council Member John Lee voted against the ordinance.

The LA County Board of Supervisors voted in September to require patrons and employees of bars, wineries, distilleries and other nightlife establishments to have proof that they have received at least one vaccine shot by Oct. 7 and are fully vaccinated by Nov. 4, the Los Angeles Times reported. The county allows local governments to introduce their own stricter public health provisions.

The new city law says that Nov. 4 will also be the day patrons need to start showing proof of vaccination to enter indoor venues, though there are religious and medical exemptions written into the ordinance.

The city council’s vote comes a day after LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she can envision an end to the county’s mask mandate, provided that health officials see significantly lower transmission rates and higher vaccination rates than the county currently has, the Daily News reported.

For some business owners and commercial landlords, the fact that the enforcement of these rules will overwhelmingly fall to proprietors and their staff is a sticking point.

NewMark Merrill Cos. CEO Sandy Sigal drew a parallel to the mask mandate in place throughout Los Angeles County. NewMark Merrill owns or manages a portfolio of more than 85 shopping centers across three states including California. Sigal said in his experience, the vast majority of people who enter stores are complying with the rules, but the few that are not complying are doing so intentionally and present a challenge for those trying to get them to follow the rules. Because enforcement falls to individual businesses, not everyone ends up enforcing it equally.

“It becomes a whole thing,” Sigal said. “And at some point, people who are just trying to do the right thing say, ‘You know what? It’s not worth it. I’m not willing to deal with this.’”

Sigal held up the lack of support from local government for enforcing the mask mandate as another reason he objected to the imposition of an additional requirement.

“Work on that mandate first,” Sigal said.

Sigal also worried about the added costs that complying with the requirements could tack on for tenants, many of whom are still trying to rebuild from the fallout of the previous 18 months, he said. Some establishments may need to hire additional staff for the extra step of checking for vaccination, including potentially hiring security to back up staffers checking vaccination cards.

Sigal said he is vaccinated and he encourages others to get vaccinated, but that he doesn’t see the point of this regulation.

“This is making City Hall feel like they’re doing something, but it will not contribute to a positive outcome,” Sigal said, adding that he believes it will harm more tenants than it will help.

Numerous bars and restaurants across the city have stepped in to institute their own requirements, the Los Angeles Times reported in August, and many of the business owners the Times spoke with said they had faced pushback, either online or in person or both.

Restaurant and bar owner Tricia La Belle told Bisnow in an email that her workers have been on the receiving end of abuse from customers over the mask mandate alone, and that adding more requirements on top of that goes beyond the job description for them.

“This has gone too far,” wrote La Belle, who owns the Bon Vivant Market & Cafe in Atwater Village as well as bars in Hollywood and Glendale.

1933 Group has been requiring proof of vaccination to enter its 11 bars across LA since August, co-owner Dimitri Komarov said, and it has been a fairly smooth process.

“We got overwhelming support for patrons, though obviously there are some who weren’t happy,” Komarov said. Komarov said that his staff ends up having to turn away very few would-be patrons these days.

Since the bars already check IDs and already have security on staff, adding one more thing for his staff to check hasn’t been an issue. He did note that for businesses that aren’t already checking IDs as part of their business, there is a potential for extra labor costs for hiring more staff in order to enforce the rules.

Komarov said he has seen his business ebb and flow in relation to indicators of the intensity of the coronavirus pandemic — when case numbers or transmission rates shoot up, he sees fewer people in his establishments, for example.  He is hopeful that this added requirement will make more people feel confident to go out.

Komarov said he is glad the city has made the decision to require proof of vaccination to enter indoor venues.

“I wish they did it a little earlier, but it is what it is,” Komarov said.

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