Search The Tattler

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Police Flummoxed by County COVID Order at Emeryville Construction Sites

COVID Cat & Mouse Game Plays Out at City Construction Sites

Police Unable or Unwilling to Force Compliance

Workers at the Maz housing construction site on San Pablo Avenue got a surprise visit from the Emeryville police on Monday who, responding to complaints from citizens, gently reminded the workers they need to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the community.  It marked the beginning of a week of community calls and police responses to this and other construction sites in Emeryville where large numbers of workers have been flouting the Alameda County Face Covering Order, issued on April 17th.  The dynamic of police prompted to show up to ensure compliance has descended into a puerile if deadly game of COVID cat and mouse, workers keeping their masks at the ready to slip on at the sight of police cars or even an Emeryville Tattler photographer (we were sneaky and quick and caught several workers before they had a chance to slip their masks on).  And so the City of Emeryville appears to be flummoxed by strong willed construction workers and rendered inert in their charge to provide public safety.  Emeryville, it would appear, is not taking the COVID-19 virus seriously.

From the beginning when the pandemic arrived in our area, the Emeryville Police Department has shown a lack of concern.  The Chief of Police, Jennifer Tejada, didn’t alert her troops to the fact that it is the municipal police departments in Alameda County who are charged with enforcement of the county order decrees for the deadly virus.  Distressingly, it was the Tattler who informed the Emeryville police rank and file, that it is their responsibility to enforce the orders.  After the Chief had been made aware it was her and her department that bears responsibility for enforcement but before the Tattler disseminated that information to the EPD personnel, the officers were oblivious to this fact.  Emeryville police officers across the department had mistakenly thought it was the responsibility of the Alameda County Sheriff to enforce the COVID orders.

Starting after they were made aware it is their responsibility to enforce, Emeryville police have mostly reported worker compliance at various construction sites in town.  But how trustworthy is that?  They’re getting calls from the public, they’re driving out to the sites and the workers are pulling up their masks before the police get out of their cars.  This is what has come to pass as effective public policy in today’s Emeryville.  Tempting fate, perhaps the police and the Chief feel they can trifle with this virus.

Some of these work sites in town have 20 or 30 workers laboring shoulder to shoulder, many without wearing masks.  This is not some piddling thing.  This is precisely the kind of public health infection risk the county face covering order seeks to stop.  Alameda County Interim Health Officer and signatory to the order, Dr Erica Pan is adamant that construction workers and others wear masks saying the failure to do so "...constitutes an imminent threat and immediate menace to public health".  Failure to comply with the order can result in a fine or imprisonment or both.

Regardless, contractors in Emeryville aren’t forcing their workers to wear masks and the developers aren’t forcing the contractors and the police aren’t forcing any of them.  But in this dysfunctional dynamic, it’s not the private sector who the Tattler will go after.  They’re to be expected to lie and cheat and cut corners, chasing their profits.  It is the public sector we hold accountable.

And so we are distressed at the idea that our city is rendered impotent in the middle of a deadly pandemic by construction workers who don’t like wearing masks.  We like to think that it would take more than mask hating workers to bring our city down in their charge to protect the public.  But so far in this age of COVID, that’s not the city we live in.  Absurd as it sounds, COVID is likely spreading in our community because the Emeryville Police Department hasn't so far had the wherewithal to defeat cleaver construction workers who quickly pull up their masks upon the sight of a police car.

Insofar as construction site mask compliance may be had as a result of an embarrassed Emeryville Police Department due to our reporting, this is not a responsibility the Emeryville Tattler wishes.  We don’t want public safety to be in our hands.  We’re not paid for this.  We are here simply to report.  It is the Chief of Police who is paid for this.  We want her and this city to start taking this virus seriously.

No Masks at Maz Work Site
Caught in a candid moment by a Tattler photographer Thursday, workers wait for a crane
to lift a modular housing component into place.  Elsewhere on the site, when they saw our camera, workers quickly put their masks on... for us and for the police.  


  1. Good catch. People are walking all over the place flouting the law.

    Unless the EPD deems this a serious offense, it will continue this way.
    Very similar reaction to complaints about noise, smoking, panhandlers jeopardizing traffic safety etc. Not taken that seriously by EPD.

    Unfortunately, this is several magnitudes worse due to the immediacy of the problem. I suggest an interview with Chief Tejada or the City GM.

    1. Individuals walking around without masks probably isn’t too much of a problem, especially if they observe the six foot rule. However 30 or more unmasked workers in close proximity with each other all day long is a huge problem. It is very possible the virus would spread in that setting.
      We pay for police services that are supposed to embody public safety. In fact, they’re even called public safety officers. We’re paying for it in Emeryville but we’re demonstrably not getting it. The Chief needs to explain herself before the City Manager.
      Here at the Tattler, there’s not going to be a personal accountability moment: the Chief of Police refuses to speak to the Tattler on any subject. She accepts the $200,000 or so we collectively pay her every year but she refuses to take personal responsibility and account for her poor job performance when we ask. That’s how much she thinks about you, Emeryville residents: no comment.

      We should have public servants who serve the public and are accountable. It’s not too much to ask.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. It's not just in Emeryville where this is happening. I've seen construction sites in Oakland recently where none of them are wearing masks. Even cops aren't wearing them in Oakland. If they want people to start wearing masks they're going to have to enforce that. Gently reminding people won't get them to do it.