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Palmdale wants to test L.A. County’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The city of Palmdale is looking into how it can challenge an L.A. County mandate requiring residents to show proof of vaccination to enter indoor bars, wineries, nightclubs and lounges, becoming another focal point in the debate over personal freedom and public health.

Palmdale City Council members on Oct. 20 voted unanimously to direct the city attorney to report back with options to push against the rules, whether by resolution, ordinance, lawsuit or other measure.

City leaders passed the motion after lengthy public comments dominated by residents who railed against vaccine mandates, citing religious, health and other reasons they wanted to avoid the jab.

“It is an overreach to sit here and demand an invasive medical procedure,” Mayor Steven Hofbauer said during a phone interview Tuesday, calling the notion of a forced health measure “Orwellian.”

Palmdale city employees can opt to get the vaccine or undergo regular testing, he said.

The L.A. County mandate, issued in mid-September, requires patrons and employees to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 4. The order affects all areas of the county except Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own public health departments.

Hofbauer chose to get vaccinated after contracting the coronavirus early this year. His mother, who had underlying health conditions, died in January after getting the virus.

The mayor said he has since suffered from serious vaccine side effects, including the development of pancreatitis and pericarditis. Both conditions have been reported as possible side effects of the vaccine, but also as side effects of COVID-19 itself.

“It was a personal choice,” Hofbauer said of getting vaccinated, “and I believe that’s what it needs to be.”

Palmdale officials will reach out to other cities and government associations — especially those that have chafed against the mandate — to gauge “the appetite to go to battle,” he said, citing the possibility of a collective challenge.

L.A. County Department of Public Health officials did not immediately respond to request for comment.

As more communities across California require proof of vaccination for many retailers and other public venues, the battle over enforcement of the new rules is potentially just beginning.

L.A. County health officials strongly recommend, but do not require, vaccination verification at indoor portions of restaurants. The county mandate is not as expansive as public health orders in some other parts of California. San Francisco and Berkeley require customers to show proof of vaccination in indoor restaurants, bars and gyms.

The city of Los Angeles approved an ordinance requiring restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters and many other indoor venues to require proof of customers’ vaccination. The rules are set to go into effect Thursday.

Such mandates aim to slow the spread of the coronavirus both by reducing potential exposure and encouraging more people to get vaccinated. But they also place a burden on businesses and leave government officials grappling with how to deal with those who buck the rules.

Many businesses have welcomed these mandates, saying they give them government backing to do what they think is safe. But that’s far from a universal view.

A mandate in Contra Costa County, in Northern California’s East Bay, sparked at least one high-profile case of defiance.

Late last month, In-N-Out Burger closed indoor dining at all five of its restaurants in the county rather than comply with local health mandates requiring patrons to show proof of their vaccination status.

“As a company, In-N-Out Burger strongly believes in the highest form of customer service and to us that means serving all customers who visit us and making all customers feel welcome,” Arnie Wensinger, the chain’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government.”

The Contra Costa County Health Department briefly closed an In-N-Out restaurant on Oct. 26 in the city of Pleasant Hill for failing to demand vaccination or testing documentation from customers, according to the burger chain.

“We thank In-N-Out Burger for coming up with a solution that helps keep our community safe,” the county health agency said in a statement.

Times staff writers Nathan Solis, Luke Money, Gregory Yee and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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