On March 18, a special emergency meeting was called by the Yucaipa City Council to discuss the COVID-19 response and declaration of a local emergency. Councilmembers Greg Gogh, Bobby Duncan, and Mayor David Avila were all present and Councilmember Dick Riddell and Mayor Pro Tem Denise Allen were present by teleconference, along with city attorney, David Snow.
Ray Casey, City Manager said, “This item is an update on the COVID-19 response and this evening a declaration of local emergency. This has been a quickly evolving event over recent weeks and as it has evolved, we have done our best to stay with it and in front of it the best we can. There are some more recent declarations (since the emergency meeting of March 16) and decisions made by the County Board of Health, the presidential declarations, the governor’s declarations or executive orders. Our federal, state, and county emergency declarations support the city of Yucaipa also declaring a local emergency which potentially opens up the opportunity for reimbursement of costs, not only for the city but it makes it easier for local businesses to access federal and state funding that is being discussed.”
“In addition, the recent Department of Health order and staff is recommending we adhere to that order, and close the Community Center and the Performing Arts center, given that the order describes canceling all gatherings in the county.”
“We are recommending that park rentals of spaces in the park stop and be cancelled but not parks themselves be closed. Also that we modify public access to the city hall until further notice,” said Casey.
Casey went on to say that Yucaipa has been one of the later cities to adopt some of the changes, which he felt has been appropriate and anticipates the city would continue to be conservative in terms of allowing public access and making sure the city does business to the best of its abilities under the circumstances.
Staff was recommending the canceling of S.T.A.R.S. extended services and Spring Camp. Also recommended the canceling of all private rentals at the Community Center, Yucaipa Performing Arts Center, Park Shelters, and fields. Also included would be the canceling of all contract classes. All YPAC shows will be canceled. Staff was seeking direction on the closure of the Community Center with no drop-in programming, with closure of the YPAC to have no box office hours, and all special events to be postponed or canceled. All current special permits will be revoked, no approval on any special event permits and the postponement of all city sponsored special events. This will be implemented effective Thursday, March 19.
Allen said, “I think adopting the resolution is a good essential step as we do need to take whatever steps we can in order to help our local businesses get through this.”
Allen went on to say, “Again, just stay focused on what we can do to help any of our elderly members of our community that may not even be able to get out to even get the supplies that they need. I think this is a great move in the right direction.”
Riddell stated, “I support the recommendations to shut down the community center and YPAC as I haven’t changed my position from last time. The modified position on city hall, I agree with that. The recommendation on restaurants to encourage take-out, drive-through, and limit inside seating to no more than 10 people or at least have a 6 feet separation which means only one person to a table. I would recommend take-out and drive-through where they just pick up their food. If we can’t get the volunteers to deliver food to our elderly, we will get city staff to do it.”
Allen added, “My recommendation was to explore additional steps we might be able to take with our seniors that might not be able to get out to get the supplies they need. Maybe we can figure out some ways we can do some care packages or something … and get regular updates on this as we move forward.
Councilman Duncan asked questions.
“So, by declaring a state of emergency in Yucaipa, which is what you were going to do at the last meeting and we decided not to, by doing this, does this actually help our businesses or our citizens have access to money? Is the city of Yucaipa going to allocate any money from our reserves to the folks that live here? Are we going to do anything except just follow the guidelines or are we going to just take a step to help the people who are living here,” asked Duncan.
Casey answered, “Great questions and the Small Business Association has already moved towards some help in the form of low interest loans or perhaps even grants without the declaration of the city, but in most cases, the private industry is not able to access federal or state funding as readily without a local agency declaring an emergency. That is a very important reason for us to do that. In addition we are able to seek reimbursement for some of these extra ordinary costs like closing facilities and having staff working there and other costs like additional cleaning if we are going to keep our parks open except for the rentals. Those are the reasons why an emergency declaration is extremely important.”
“My personal belief and recommendation is to keep the parks open and do the additional work that is required to keep our parks open because our kids don’t have a lot to do. They are home from school and they need to get out in the fresh air or they will have other health issues, in my opinion,” said Casey.
Casey assured the council that the order from the Department of Health does not include requiring communities to close parks at this time even though the county and some cities have done that.
Mayor Avila agreed with Allen, “I don’t think we need to have an end date (on closures) and every two weeks we can be revisit as necessary and a lot depends on what happens with this crisis and pandemic. That will be the guiding force on how we should react in keeping any of our public facilities closed and or open.”
Riddell said, “I think we should abide by the federal, state and county recommendations and I don’t think this thing should have a duration time. I think it should be open ended. We should just see how fast this thing is changing and if the situation countrywide, state-wide and city and county-wide changes, we need to have another emergency meeting to see if we need to be more stringent on what we are now proposing. I don’t think we should put a time limit on it right now. Let’s just play it by ear, leave it open and go with the national, state, and county rules as they change. Just discourage people from congregating and encourage them to stay apart. The federal government and all the doctors are recommending the best thing to do is to stay at home, get plenty of rest and also exercise. If we close the parks, that is going to reduce the ability to exercise for some people. I think what the city is recommending right now is what we should be doing to take care of the current situation. If things change drastically, like they have in the last couple of days, and we need another meeting we could do it.”
Allen added, “I agree with all of that and just want to reiterate that whatever we can do and look at some options to try to take some of the burden off of our local business owners, and explore some options like Bobby was saying, we should explore some avenues to assist them as they work their way through this time frame, whatever it happens to end up being.”
Casey said, “We are in conversations with the Chamber of Commerce about that very issue. How do we use ‘Explore Yucaipa’ which was a question raised a few meetings ago, to help that recovery when the time is right. And even help those that are doing deliveries during this time frame and even more so as we start to recover in the five or six weeks that the federal government is hoping for. We will have at least a study session discussion available for Monday night (March 21) on the start of that process. We met by teleconference today with the chamber board about that very issue.”
Mayor Avila said the chamber’s Facebook page explains what the chamber is offering to do to help the small businesses in town.
Riddell said, “With respect to pay, I think we have to continue to pay all regular employees and only use contract and part-time as needed. The employer where we get our contract employees will have to bite the bullet too.”
Bogh said, “I would like to add something on an end date, I think the hardest part about this whole thing is that it is unpredictable and that is what is driving everyone crazy. We don’t know what to do. My kids are asking me every day, ‘when is this going to be over?’ They are tired of it already. And I can’t tell them when, so I think that if we do pick an end date, say April 3 and it may go on beyond that but I think we need to have a goal just to take a little of this unpredictability out of it … and just keep extending it, that’s fine.”
Avila said, “April 13 was set by the county and it has been decided to revisit this at that date again for the county and county health. So we can put an end date.”
Casey informed the council that the recent news release goes through April 6.
Avila said, “OmniTrans will reduce their level of service based on employees taking vacation time and the lack of clientele as it has dropped dramatically. OmniTrans does not have the number of passengers as it had even the week before. OmniTrans is committed to providing transportation services to the public should a need arise during this time of crisis.
Allen said, “I am OK with supporting the end date set by the county, as long as we also have the flexibility of making it shorter and making sure we have those updates at every council meeting so we can act in whatever way we need to.”
Casey suggested that the end date be after the next council meeting (April 13) so that another special meeting wouldn’t have to be called for an update unless an emergency meeting is required.
Duncan said, “I think we should definitely set a date. I like the 6th or the 13th, either one works for me and we may have to change it but we need to do what Greg says and set a date as far as I can tell.”
Bogh stated we need an end time and a goal so the council can tell the citizens a date so they can make plans. “You plan for nothing and you do nothing,” said Bogh.
Avila agreed and said it gives them some sense of hope. It was recommended the end date would be April 13.
Another recommendation was brought before the council that wasn’t on the agenda to authorize the city manager to amend the personnel rules to allow the use of sick time at the discretion of the city manager during this emergency period. This would be added to the emergency declaration of the city for city employees.
After the city attorney explained a possible complication of going with a date beyond what the county ordered, the council decided to go with an end date of April 6.
Allen agreed with this date. Duncan made the motion and Avila helped with the wording - that the city adopt the resolution declaring a local emergency regarding the COVID-19 virus and receive status reports regarding city response to the COVID-19 pandemic review options going forward and provide direction; approve the closing of the community center, the Performing Arts Center, canceling all park rentals; modifying public access to city hall until further notice; and authorize the city manager to amend the personnel rules to allow the use of sick time at the discretion of the city manager during this emergency period until April 6. Bogh seconded the motion.
A roll call vote was taken with all five council members and it was unanimous.