City: Santa Clarita could have report on local health department by February

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on Feb. 26. Dan Watson/The Signal

Santa Clarita City Council members could have before them a report that analyzes the creation of a local public health department as soon as February. 

The study would evaluate different models of service delivery, the scope of services provided, and potential revenues and expenses, among other factors, according to City Manager Ken Striplin, who briefed the council members Tuesday following the naming of Bill Miranda as mayor and the swearing in of the newly elected Councilman Jason Gibbs. 

The creation of a city health department is not a frequent venture, as only four cities across California have their own: Berkeley, Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon. 

“So it’s not a very common undertaking but the consultants should have their report available by, hopefully, the beginning of February, mid-February,” he said. 

In late September, the City Council voted 4-1, with former Councilman Bob Kellar casting the lone vote in opposition, in support of researching the creation and operation of a local health department — a proposal then-Mayor Cameron Smyth had proposed in August. The move greenlighted the hiring of a consultant for $25,000 to analyze the feasibility of one. 

Council members have acknowledged that the move would be very expensive but have also expressed that a local health department would help the city in making its own decisions, including pandemic-related guidelines and reopenings as Santa Clarita and north county cities such as Lancaster and Palmdale have different demographics and COVID-19 figures from the rest of Los Angeles County.

Mayors of the three cities have conversed in the last week about what a regional model would look like for a North L.A. County health department, according to Smyth. 

Last Thursday, Lancaster City Council voted unanimously to do the same in exploring a local health department, in addition to passing a vote of no confidence in county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, citing decisions made, including the ban on outdoor dining, with a lack of scientific evidence. 

Efforts to create a health department come after Santa Clarita, at one point, was listed as one of the 15 hardest-hit communities in Los Angeles County, according to COVID-19 figures Public Health officials released in early November. Lancaster’s positivity rate and hospitalizations, too, have skyrocketed over the past month. 

As these figures fluctuate, the exploration for a health department among the north county cities is a proposal county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, said last week she supports. 

“I think the devil’s going to be in the details and understand that even if they were to do it it’s not going to happen quickly,” she said. “So, I think that the time to explore it is now in terms of just what their options are.” 

The City Council is expected to reconvene on Tuesday, Jan. 12, following a winter hiatus. 

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