Los Angeles

LA County Cities Seek Authority to Individually Manage Reopening

People walk on Manhattan Beach May 13, 2020 in Southern California.
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Officials representing municipalities from the South Bay to the Ventura County border urged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to allow retail businesses in certain cities to reopen, arguing that they face a lower risk than the county as a whole.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Los Angeles County is "right on the cusp'' of being able to reopen retail businesses and relax other public health officers, but argued for the right of cities to move more quickly.

"Our county has done an exceptional job of flattening the curve through social distancing, investing in testing and stocking up on PPE,'' Barger said.

Barger and Janine Hahn co-authored a motion recommending that a variance for the whole county be sought immediately after certain state criteria have been met. However, the motion also seems to indicate that may still take some time, as it proposes asking the county's health officer to work with state officials to obtain variances that allow interested cities to relax health regulations earlier.

"This virus has impacted each of our communities differently,'' Barger said. "Many of the communities have matched the state's Department of Public Health thresholds.''

Barger said she believed the governor's recent executive order opens the door for individual cities to move more quickly than the county in which they are located.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl disagreed, saying that state health officials had repeatedly made clear that regulations should be applied countywide.

"We cannot fracture the county that way,'' Kuehl said. "(It) creates an ungovernable patchwork quilt.''

Barger countered that a letter to the board from state health officials on the topic showed a "disconnect'' with Gov. Gavin Newsom's most relevant executive order.

When previously asked about the possibility of parts of Los Angeles County opening before others, Newsom noted "geographic disparities and the spread of the virus being disparate among different regions within'' Los Angeles County.

He also told reporters, "We look forward to working with (L.A. County officials) more substantively and specifically about areas that they would recommend."

Kuehl said creating city-by-city variances and rules would create racial inequities.

"It would be difficult for any city with a high minority population to meet these guidelines,'' Kuehl said.

Barger countered that the economic shutdown was disproportionately hurting minority communities and low-wage workers, many of whom work in cities that could meet state criteria.

"Every county around us has reopened and is moving in a direction that, quite frankly, if we do not begin listen to our constituency and listen to what is going on in this county, we are going to have more jobs lost,'' Barger said.

Many residents, business owners and officials spoke out on behalf of Westlake Village, which borders Ventura County. Ventura was granted a variance May 20 allowing retail businesses to reopen.

Westlake Village Councilman Ned Davis pointed to the lopsided consequences for retailers.

"Our city is faced with businesses on one side of the street located in Ventura County reopening while similar businesses on the opposite side of the street located in Los Angeles County must remain closed. The city of Westlake Village meets all the necessary metrics to qualify for the variance,'' Davis told the board.

In her debate with Barger, Kuehl pointed out that the same disparities would crop up if cities bordering Los Angeles were granted variances.

"Everybody's on the border of something,'' Kuehl said.

Rik Bright of Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village told the board that "the statistics and the data show that our area is safe.''

Bright and others assured the supervisors that they would abide by all city, county and state safety guidelines, with one business owner saying, "We are prepared to open going above and beyond the safety requirements.''

Westlake Village has a total of six confirmed cases, no deaths and no recent cases, according to the speakers and public health records.

Others pointed out that the region has already suffered economically as a result of the 2018 Woolsey Fire.

El Segundo Mayor Drew Boyles also asked that his city be allowed to open under accelerated state guidelines -- eliminating curbside-only restrictions for retailers -- even as the county as whole is under Stage Two.

"We should be allowed to forge ahead,'' Boyles told the board on the teleconference, promising that shoppers could be kept safe.

El Segundo had 32 total positive coronavirus cases, only two of which are active, according to Boyles. The city's population totals roughly 16,610, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates.

Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey also asked for the freedom to move faster than Los Angeles and other cities countywide, saying local officials are better positioned than Sacramento to make the best decisions for local residents.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said she would vote against the motion given that the number of cases continues to rise in many cities and many workers move from homes in one city to jobs in other areas.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested tabling the motion until the board could get guidance from county counsel about a related item in a closed-door session. A board vote may or may not be taken following that discussion.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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