Supes plan for reopening county, discuss impacts of COVID-19

Los Angeles County Seal.
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While Los Angeles County is not yet ready to lift any of the restrictions put in place by the nearly 6-week-old “Safer at Home” directive, the county Board of Supervisors started taking steps Tuesday to determine how things can safely reopen.

“We continue to see the higher number of positive cases, and the tragic loss of life every day and, because of that, we must balance the science with the recovery,” said county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley. “And, as we handle the day-to-day emergencies, so, too, must we look to the future and develop plans to gradually bring back our economy in a safe and responsible manner.” 

During its virtual meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a number of measures aimed at laying the groundwork for relaxing restrictions of the stay-at-home directive set to expire May 15, as well as other coronavirus-related issues. 

Safely reopening

While Gov. Gavin Newsom has outlined six indicators the state will consider before modifying its order, they are a bit more stringent than the ones expected for the county, according to Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who represents the 1st District.

Even so, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion that will similarly direct the county’s Department of Public Health, Department of Health Services, Department of Mental Health and any other appropriate departments to provide the board with a report within seven days that details measures needed for containment of COVID-19 and prerequisites for relaxing the order. 

“I would caution everyone from thinking that we have an end in sight, or we’re nearing the end of this unprecedented tragedy,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the 4th District. “This is not going to just go away. Coronavirus is going to be around forever, and without a vaccine to prevent us from getting the virus or a therapeutic drug to treat you if you need it, we need to really be cautious in how we reopen our society.”

The motion also requests a plan be developed to engage the business community and labor partners on these plans, allowing for input and any preparations that need to be made for reopening, and in an amendment to the measure, city leaders and representatives, as well as nonprofits, were also included in that group.

Roadmap to economic recovery

The second unanimously approved motion detailing recovery plans includes extensive plans to to rebuild and revive the local economy, which would convene an “economic resiliency task force” to develop recommendations for the county to leverage public-private partnerships to improve the economy, create jobs and return to full employment.

With the amendments made during the meeting, this task force will be comprised of business, industry, labor, and county and city leaders, as well as representatives of each relevant county department.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated that the economy’s strength can’t be separated from the health of the people who drive it,” Solis said. “Under these guiding principles, I underscore that this task force will work in lockstep with Dr. (Barbara) Ferrer (director of Public Health) and (other) public health experts. The economic recovery will not be at the expense of the health of our residents.” 

In addition, the measure is set to:

  • Create a permanent 501(c)3 County Fund for L.A. to assist in recovery by raising private capital to support local businesses, employees and underserved communities.
  • Develop an L.A. County Works initiative to support a return to full employment through job training, subsidized employment opportunities and youth employment programs.
  • Direct the county’s Office of Education to engage with state and federal education departments and other local school districts to create a safe environment for youth that allows parents to return to work.

Recommended budget amid pandemic

Although it was drafted before the current health crisis, L.A. County CEO Sachi A. Hamai released the county’s $35.5 billion spending plan, which is expected to go under extensive revision before its adoption in June.

“The rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented global health crisis and spurred a severe economic downturn,” Hamai said. “The fallout has resulted in broad and deep reductions in several key revenue sources.” 

Though the county has implemented a hiring freeze in order to begin curtailing expenses, an estimated $1 billion drop in revenues is expected as of June 30 as the county concludes the current fiscal year, with an additional $1 billion-plus revenue decline in 2020-21 — shortfalls that, when combined with the increased COVID-19 spending, will shape the budget realignment.

Some of the proposed revisions include use of the county’s rainy-day fund, trust funds and reserves to offset expenses, cost curtailments and reductions, such as continuing the hiring and purchasing freeze, eliminating or reducing new or expanded budget projects, and curtailing departmental programs, as well as other program cuts. 

“We are reminded that our budget is critically important, as we see so many people depending upon the county’s services during times of need, especially with what they are experiencing now,” Barger said. “Demands for county services, such as food, housing, health services, homeless services and many others are increasing at a rate never seen before.” 

That being said, the Board of Supervisors is rallying for more federal funding to maintain these services and is expected to send a letter to Congress, informing federal leaders of the county’s fiscal impact of COVID-19 and the need for additional funding for the county, as well as its 88 cities by population.

City of Santa Clarita

Reopening the city of Santa Clarita will largely depend on when and what county officials lay out for the countywide plan toward normalcy, as the city follows the county’s public health guidelines, Mayor Cameron Smyth said during a webinar with the SCV Chamber of Commerce Tuesday. 

“I think once we have an idea of what (the county is) looking at, we might be in a better position to advocate and provide some data and evidence to support slowly opening up the county and we would love to see parts of the 5th district (which the SCV falls within) get some relief,” he said, adding that Santa Clarita has been in conversation with Barger about the possibility of providing cities some new flexibility on incrementally reopening the city. 

With current measures and the safer-at-home order remaining in place until May 15, uncertainty still lingers and closures could remain throughout summer, with a hopeful target for city programming by the fall, Smyth said. 

To view all coronavirus-related stories, visit signalscv.com/category/news/coronavirus.

Signal Staff Writer Tammy Murga contributed to this report.

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