City of Aspen: Nothing good happens after midnight, council to vote Wednesday on curfew
Aspen City Council on Tuesday took measures to place a midnight curfew on businesses, as well as imposing penalties on those that permit individuals to enter their establishments without face coverings.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, council passed an emergency ordinance on first reading, with a final decision expected on Wednesday during another special meeting that is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. after public comment is heard and deliberations are made.
The additional measures are in response to concerns that some businesses and their patrons are not adhering to public health orders mandating social distancing and face masks, which could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases and a shutdown of the local economy.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said Tuesday based on her 40-year history living in town, restaurants often turn into bars after they stop serving food and the lights go down, the music gets louder and the revelry ramps up.
She referenced spikes in cases in states that have allowed bars to be open, and some of those hotspots are where many visitors are coming from.
“I know a curfew for me is better than a shutdown,” she said. “Unfortunately, those are the types of choices that we’re running into.”
The ordinance would allow the city to revoke a business or liquor license up to 15 days if the establishment is found to have willfully and deliberately violated public health orders.
A notice of a hearing before City Council would be posted on the establishment, according to the ordinance.
Aspen police officers could enforce the midnight closure law just as they do the traditional 2 a.m. time, said Police Chief Richard Pryor, although it could tax resources with just two or three officers on duty who have other calls to attend to.
Officials said giving more teeth to the city’s existing face mask mandate will help business owners and their employees explain to customers the seriousness of the law when they get pushback.
“We’ve heard from some businesses that say it does make it easier for the business to mandate that because they suffer repercussions and it’s easy if they have no repercussions to ignore the rule,” said City Attorney Jim True.
He added that revoking or suspending a license is a “very, very harsh action” that would only be done in the most egregious instances.
Placing a limit on when a restaurant or any other business closes has been discussed among government and public health officials for the past two weeks, Mayor Torre noted.
It’s unclear whether Local’s Corner gas station and convenience store, which runs 24 hours a day, or hotels and lodges, would be subject to the ordinance.
Councilman Skippy Mesirow voiced his skepticism on the curfew, especially if the city is enforcing that people wear masks in businesses, as well as practicing Pitkin County’s five commitments to its “box it in” strategy.
“I don’t understand what the curfew achieves other than punishing people who aren’t breaking the rules,” he said.
Torre said the curfew, or prohibition, is aimed at supporting businesses, not burdening them.
“I don’t want anybody to get the wrong impression that we are looking for more avenues for compliance,” he said. “We’re looking to support and strengthen those restaurants in their desire to get compliance from their customers.”
The city’s face mask ordinance applies to people who are inside of a business or mode of public transportation, with the exception of restaurants in which individuals are allowed to take their facial covering off once they are seated at a table.
Face masks are required in other indoor and outdoor places when people are unable to maintain being 6 feet apart from one another outside of their household for more than 10 minutes; however, officials are encouraging individuals to wear them as a standard practice.
Businesses and individuals who don’t adhere to the face mask law are subject to a penalty of $50 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and a mandatory court appearance for any subsequent offense, including up to a $2,650 fine and one-year imprisonment, or both, each day for each violation.
However, council members have lamented for weeks about the lack of enforcement by the county, whose health department controls the public health order.
The emergency ordinance up for consideration by City Council gives the city an enforcement tool.
“We, by enforcing or adopting Ordinance 11, take control of this into our own hands,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “My belief is that we were elected to govern the city of Aspen, and not pass that on to the board of county commissioners or in the public health department.
“I think it is our duty to keep our economy open and to suppress COVID-19 and I think this is a measure that is widely supported by restaurants that I have seen and spoken with.”
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