City Council meeting chamber.

A file photo of the San Marcos City Council meeting chamber.

The San Marcos City Council discussed a potential emergency order that would increase COVID-19 restrictions at its Feb. 2 meeting, ultimately deciding to forgo it in favor of increasing education on the virus.

Councilmember Maxfield Baker, who at the council's Jan. 19 meeting introduced the idea of using an emergency order to create additional COVID-19 restrictions in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, says tighter restrictions are necessary to reduce COVID-19 deaths.

“We’re going to keep seeing people die unless we can come up with mandatory mask coverings and mandatory social distancing enforcement or the other option is another lockdown,” Baker says.

Councilmember Melissa Derrick agreed with Baker. Derrick says the threat of a ticket might motivate people to wear masks and practice social distancing, drawing comparisons to traffic laws.

“I want to see enforcement,” Derrick says. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t be handing out a ticket or giving warnings to nudge people into practicing what the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is telling us needs to be practiced.”

Other councilmembers objected to the idea based on two major concerns, the first being the lawsuit that would inevitably result from challenging state orders. The second concern, raised by councilmember Mark Gleason, was the strain that enforcing new COVID-19 restrictions would place on local law enforcement.

“I just don’t want to see us take law enforcement off the street when we’ve seen that they’re already short-staffed,” Gleason says.

Councilmember Alyssa Garza thinks disseminating more information, especially regarding testing and vaccination opportunities, is the most helpful thing the council can do at this time.

“Before we go hard on enforcement we need to go harder on education,” Garza says. “Maybe we can have a conversation on how our officers can be more education-based instead of going and causing a ruckus and scaring people.”

The council’s discussion of the item was cut short due to time constraints, as the meeting had already been running for nearly six hours prior. Ultimately, all councilmembers, except Baker, agreed to focus on education rather than passing an emergency order was the best path forward.

The council also discussed sending a letter to Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn and President Joe Biden requesting additional measures to combat COVID-19. The matter was postponed after Gleason disputed the phrase “to adopt and enforce mandatory face-covering and social distancing orders” contained within the letter.

“I cannot defend that,” Gleason says. “I am not going to spend time and energy and tell police officers to shut down businesses or funerals or someone’s family barbeque because they’re not wearing a mask.”

Council members also voted to postpone an ordinance that would rezone an area located in the 400 Block of Riverway Ave. from a community commercial district to a heavy commercial district. The heavy commercial designation would allow for uses such as landfills, waste processing and motor service facilities. Councilmembers and citizen speakers expressed concerns about the effects of such facilities in surrounding neighborhoods and the nearby Blanco River.

In other business, the council made annual appointments to 23 various boards and commissions, including the Planning & Zoning Commission.

The San Marcos City Council meets virtually on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Residents who wish to speak during the citizen comment or public hearing periods should email no later than noon on the day of the meeting.

For more information about City Council or to view meeting recordings and agendas, visit its website.

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