On March 23, at the Yucaipa City Council meeting, Ray Casey, city manager, brought to the council a request to consider early annual support funding for the Chamber of Commerce on or before April 1.
Mayor Pro Tem Denise Allen said according to the letter received, “I don’t see a problem with that given that their request is April 1st except that our next council meeting is after that date.”
“I think they are ok for a short time,” said Casey.
Casey said, “They just don’t have the opportunity to plead their case this evening because the intent was to focus on their partnership effort, but if you do want to hear it this evening, it should be presented first and Mayor Avila would have to recuse himself.”
Mayor David Avila, who is married to Ellen Benefiel, Chamber CEO, recused himself from the discussion regarding the Chamber of Commerce letter of request from the council. Allen resumed the responsibility of the discussion of this portion of the item after Avila left the room.
Casey said, “Let me start with the chamber letter. The original context of it was to focus on some of our efforts and partnership with the chamber and others to help small businesses. We have put together a team, whose primary focus is going to be helping small businesses find their way through the federal and state programs that are coming out almost on a daily basis.”
The city and the chamber are working together through social media campaigns on both websites, to get the word out about local restaurants that have delivery, take-out, and pick-up and that are allowed to be open for business. This also includes grocery stores with special shopping hours for seniors and regular hours. The chamber of commerce is also offering to help with the delivery of food from the Scherer Senior Center, which seems to be under control, but Casey said the offer was greatly appreciated.
The chamber is requesting accelerating its annual support payment from July 1 to April 1.
“I believe we should go ahead and give them the $27,500 now that they are asking for,” said Councilman Bobby Duncan.
He went on to say, “The word dire, tells me they have a problem and at least we can help them because we have already budgeted that money. It is unfortunate we cannot help our local restaurants any more than our local businesses. The law does not restrict us from doing that and I think we should do that.”
Council member Greg Bogh agreed with Duncan.
Duncan motioned to grant the chamber’s request to receive the already budgeted funds for April 1 or sooner and was seconded by Bogh.
Casey told the council the city did have the funds to grant this request and this would be given early instead of the normal July 1 date.
Allen said, “We know, as councilmember Duncan said, our businesses and especially some of our restaurants, our gyms, many other businesses in our town are suffering. The chamber needs this funding to do what they do for our local businesses right now. I think this is a good thing.”
A vote was taken and all was in favor 4-1 with Mayor Avila recused.
The Mayor was invited back in to continue the council meeting and Casey presented positive points that were announced on Fox News earlier that day. Casey said that what he took from that report was that what we are doing in Yucaipa with the social distancing and some of the mitigation measures, seem to be having a positive effect.
“This whole effort, at least what we are hearing from the federal and state government is intended to flatten that curve (infected population numbers) and try not to allow for a situation where our medical facilities are overwhelmed and so in keeping with the Governor’s executive order … and social distancing and closures of facilities, are all part of that mitigation strategy,” said Casey.
He went on to say, “I would like to recommend this evening, council consider approving of closure of fire stations to the public, and playgrounds along with playground equipment in our city parks, leaving the parks open. Also to review and approve the telecommuting policy under the pandemic flu for city employees, approve staggering of shifts for city employees until further notice. The shift staggering allows for city hall to be accessible six days a week and essentially two shifts of Mon. - Wed with 12 hours a day with four hours from home and then Thurs. - Sat. with 12 hours a day with four hours from home.
The staff believed there were several advantages of staggering shifts. Safety of employees, if an illness effects one of the shifts in terms of quarantine, the other shift could change hours for coverage and availability for the public at least five days a week so public access could be maintained and with access on Saturday.
“The other request is telecommuting under a pandemic flu policy as at least four employees meet the at risk for exposure guidelines that come from the federal and state government. We believe they’re also good candidates for telecommuting from home with certain conditions so we have established a draft of policy for council’s consideration and would like some flexibility with the city attorney and city manager to make adjustments as needed,” said Casey.
Casey added that the rules coming from the federal and state government are changing every day and he would like flexibility to update that policy to be consistent with any updates coming down from the federal government relative to sick and vacation time and additional hours for pandemic flu time. He was asking for the policies and shift changes to be approved.
Councilmember Dick Riddell asked regarding city hall access, “We are still going to adhere to not letting more than one person in at a time and asking the questions before we let them in to make sure they haven’t been exposed to anyone with the virus, is that correct?”
Casey affirmed that was correct and appreciated the opportunity to remind the public of that requirement.
Allen supported all of the recommendations and added, “We might also want to have them align it with the date that we set at our prior emergency meeting last Wednesday in terms of when we are going to revisit it, as we set a date at that meeting. Additionally, I’ve been tracking the statistics on the worldometers.info site and the curve and the graph for the United States is definitely exponential … today alone we have 140 new deaths which is three times what it was yesterday. I think we need to follow the data and hopefully we will see this exponential curve start to flatten as the rate of incline is certainly alarming … remain optimistic and do what is right and we can beat this.”
Avila said, “I think this is a good idea. We are in a unique situation and as Councilmember Allen stated we are in a steep curve right now. I follow another app that has a daily update and it shows virtually the same thing. We are barely hanging with control of this whole issue.”
Avila asked the city attorney David Snow if there were provisions to allow the city manger some emergency ministerial authority power so that person could make decisions without having to bring the full city council back for an emergency meeting, to make those decisions and possibly lose time in the process.
Snow told council, “Yes, that is something that is actually in the city’s ordinances already. There is fairly broad latitude that has been delegated to the city manager who serves as the disaster chief in these circumstances. There is broad latitude when he is wearing his hat as city manager and all of the functions that he can exercise in that capacity but in addition to other steps necessary to protect the health and property in the community … There is a provision, an aspect of that requires city council ratification at the next practicable meeting but that doesn’t have to be an emergency meeting,” said Snow.
Bogh asked to repeat the date to revisit any changes for the safety of the city due to the pandemic and all agreed to the next city council meeting of April 7.
Duncan asked if there were any way, as a city, Yucaipa could start a go fund me account to help specifically the employees of Yucaipa, the service workers at restaurants that are about to go bankrupt due to the rules set for this pandemic and are out of work. And if there were a way to appropriate the funds fairly to each based on the number of employees. “I’d like to see that happen and I don’t know how to do that. Is that legal?” said Duncan
Casey responded, “We can certainly work with the Chamber of Commerce and they may be the better primary partner in that. We could help their efforts.”
Casey mentioned that he saw on the news cast a restaurant chain that was selling gift certificates for recovery and might be something else the community might be interested in and the city could help promote as well.
“I would like to see the chamber do that and we as a city advertise that and promote that. I think we need to make every effort right now to do this if we can, to save these businesses. We have been bragging on how our revenue from sales tax has been going up, bragging about how well we are doing and these businesses that have helped us accomplish this. They are now in dire straights,” said Duncan.
Avila mentioned that the federal government has been or is about to allocate $40 Billion in SBA (Small Business Association) low interest loans.
“That program is available and is part of what our team will be helping our small businesses with if they need any help filling out the paperwork or whatever it takes to get access to SBA loans. We are going to put on our website that we are able to assist with that,” said Casey.
In addition the federal government came out with a program yesterday which is a direct loan opportunity for small and large businesses but the details of this program are not out at the time. Casey said as soon as this information is available, it will be on the city website, Facebook page and out to the local businesses and the city staff will provide assistance along with the small business team, with any paperwork the businesses may need help with.
Allen asked if there were any way to advocate or lobby for the loan to be forgiven so businesses would get back on their feet quickly and take care of their employees. “Our small businesses need all the creative thinking we can come up with right now to help support them as they move though this,” said Allen.
Casey said they would do that.
Avila asked Fire Chief Grant Malinowski if he knew what the private ambulance services were doing.
Malinowski stated, “They are doing the same thing as we are as far as isolation and response protocol. We are using a single rescuer between all entities to minimize the impact. We have to go in with the understanding that it (COVID-19) is potentially everywhere and treat it as such. So if it is here, we already have those good practices going on and we have enough Personal Protection Equipment.”
Captain James Williams of the Yucaipa Police Department acknowledged that the police station would remain open and said, “We only allow people in the lobby and the only exposure that we have is the little slide port in the interior glass. We have the full Personal Protection Equipment and have enough to handle incident by incident.”
Allen made a motion to approve all four requests that were on the urgency item, seconded by Bogh which also included the extension of the April 6 deadline to April 13, and the extension for purposes of emergency declaration up to April 13. All were in favor, passed 5-0.
Supporting documents are available for public view on the city of Yucaipa website at yucaipa.org