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Gov. Newsom, OC Sheriff Clash Over Face Covering Enforcement

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — A war of words between Gov. Gavin Newsom and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes over enforcement of statewide mandates to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus could end up costing the county hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding.

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HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JULY 03: People gather at the beach on July 03, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California. Most of Orange County beaches and piers will be closed for the July 4th holiday weekend amid some reinstated restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

"We have made contingent, specifically, $2.5 billion in the budget that we will make contingent upon performance," Newsom said. "If they're simply unwilling to do it, then we will redirect those dollars to communities that are."

But O.C. Supervisor Don Wagner said the governor was micromanaging counties.

"I find it thoroughly unfair. I find it very frustrating," he said. "At this point, I don't know what he wants."

And Barnes has pushed back on enforcing local and statewide health orders. After face coverings became mandatory in Orange County, Barnes said his deputies were not "mask police."

And in a statement last week, Barnes said the department needed to be practical in its enforcement efforts.

"With limited exceptions, not wearing a face covering is a violation of the public health order, but it is not a practical application of a criminal law violation," the statement said.

Barnes said he hoped for voluntary compliance.

"It's challenging because in many counties the sheriff is an independently elected official, so they can set their own tone and how they run their departments," O.C. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. "We all need to work collaboratively together so we don't lose funding."

Bartlett, who is also the president of the California State Association of Counties, said she was trying to get state money upfront to fund vital programs. But, without confidence that Orange County will enforce health orders, Newsom might be resistant to the idea.

"I know the sheriff's department, like all departments, are short on resources right now," Bartlett said. "But we need to work together."

Bartlett said she has a meeting scheduled with Barnes and said that Newsom was sending in strike teams to help with enforcement.

Some locals called the plan to enforce the face covering orders heavy-handed, but others said it was a necessary step to prevent further spread of the virus.

"I think that might be the only way we might be able to bring the numbers down," Aneri Pandit, an Irvine resident, said.

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