The COVID-19 emergency has hit West Hollywood hard. People are understandably concerned, and social distancing has in some ways created disconnection, leading to more anxiety and fear. So I wanted to take a moment to share a bit more about what the City of West Hollywood has been doing in response to the COVID-19 local emergency; actions I have been taking as West Hollywood’s Mayor Pro Tempore; and ways we can work together and support one another through this crisis. I know the entire City Council cares about our community’s safety, and we are interested in making sure that we “do no harm” while offering solutions to the problems that we are learning about as this all unfolds.
The City of West Hollywood is a community that knows how to show up for people – in extraordinary ways – and I am heartened to see that happening all around us every day. Residents are reaching out – to City Hall and each other – to make sure everyone is supported. Businesses and workers alike are working together to help navigate the new economic landscape, as well as reinventing themselves and their skill sets. Frontline workers – from health care professionals to grocery store employees to post office attendants – have put themselves at risk, continuing to show up to work and ensuring that we all have access to the essential supplies and services we need. Please be respectful to them; social distancing is not an excuse to be unkind.
We have offered prayers and well wishes to our Mayor, and we are thrilled to see both John and his husband return to good health. City Hall staff has been working tirelessly, even personally calling West Hollywood seniors to check in on them, and to make sure they have access to the supplies, resources, and care they need during this difficult time. I spoke with (or left messages for) each of the city’s commissioners and board members to let them know the Ccty is thinking about them, and to make sure they have what they need. This is the kind of care our tight-knit community deserves.
That said, I cannot stress enough how essential it is that we follow the L.A. County Department of Public Health and federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines to limit the spread and #flattenthecurve. Social distancing – keeping AT LEAST six feet of separation from another person – has been the subject of a lot of lighthearted social media memes, but it is a critically serious issue. In places that have taken warnings seriously, like areas in Northern California, there have been some early signs of good news. This news does NOT mean that we are closer to the end of the crisis. It means that strictly following social isolation protocols can have a meaningful effect on keeping people safe. If we all do our part, we can and will get through this crisis together.
The L.A .County Public Health Department has declared that COVID-19 is “being spread throughout our community.” Per the advice of local healthcare partners, this means anyone with fever and respiratory symptoms will be presumed to have COVID-19, as more tests and testing facilities are becoming available.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU NECESSARILY HAVE COVID-19. IT MEANS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO ACT AS IF YOU DO. If you are experiencing fever and respiratory symptoms, your best first step is to contact your healthcare provider. Recommendations include total self-quarantine at home for 14 days and/or until symptoms are gone.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has provided additional information on its website. For updates and information about the current numbers of COVID-19 cases in the United States and in Los Angeles County, the spread of the virus, severity, treatments, precautions, and other important public health information in multiple languages, please visit websites for:
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
I have received inquiries about the numbers of reported cases in West Hollywood, and why our numbers are higher than most other cities in the county. I asked this question at our last Council meeting. (At the time, we had the second highest number of any city at five reported cases.) The representative from the L.A. County Department of Public Health said that what we should take away from the numbers is that it has spread everywhere, and that no city is immune to the spread.
Since that time, we have continued to inquire. We have not gotten any indication that there is anything “unique” to West Hollywood that accounts for our numbers, as they are comparable to neighborhoods that mirror our size and density.
What I personally think is that more people have access to good healthcare resources and testing in this area, and so we have more people that have had the good fortune of being tested. I am concerned for areas that are not reporting higher numbers, especially due to a lack of access to testing. We need to work hard to make more testing facilities available as quickly as possible so we know who has it and can treat them accordingly. I would rather see higher numbers here because we are getting people tested and into care, than lower numbers as the result of not testing and not knowing.
I have been in regular contact with Supervisor Kuehl about making more testing options available to our community, as well as with Mayor Garcetti’s team about their proposed community testing efforts. Paul Arevalo, the City Manager, has confirmed that as soon as we have the approval from L.A .County Department of Public Health, West Hollywood is ready to facilitate expanded testing for our community.
EMERGENCY SUPPLIES & PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)
The CDC has offered updated guidance regarding the use of medical supplies in prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Please be advised that there are unregulated retailers selling counterfeit masks and other supplies that are actually NOT helpful, and are putting people at risk by giving them a false sense of security. According to medical authorities, the only masks that can be trusted are those that have been tested by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the federal Food and Drug Administration. To confuse consumers, some distributors and manufacturers are even going so far as to fake their credentials. Buyer beware: not all products are created equally!
We learned that several of our local medical care providers are in need of medical supplies, including sanitizer, masks, gloves, gowns, and shoe covers, as well as face shields and googles. Sharing supplies with our local medical care providers not only allows them to serve patients in dire need, but it also helps to keep them safe while preventing the spread of COVID-19. We are being encouraged to prioritize access to these supplies for medical care providers, who are keeping us healthy and safe during this time. This past Wednesday, we organized a supply drive for local medical care providers to get quick access to supplies that already existed in our community. Thanks to the generosity of West Hollywood residents and community members as well as businesses like Voda Spa and Revolver, we were able to donate much-needed supplies to FOUR local health care providers serving the people of West Hollywood. Special thanks to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for spreading the word (not the virus!) and activating the business community to help.
While people are protecting themselves by staying home, we need to make sure they have the food they need to live. Home delivered meals continue through Jewish Family Services and Project Angel Food. City staff is working with both programs to expand their capacity to bring on additional participants. MV Transportation has been assisting with delivery of meals for JFS, specifically delivering meals to previous participants of the congregate meal programs. MV has the capacity to also increase the number of meals delivered from Project Angel Food, subsequently bringing more community members into service.
JFS/SOVA has made the decision to combine their resources/operations and have the program completely run out of its Valley location during this time. However, JFS SOVA food pantry continues to hold pop up pantries every other Friday at the Kings Road HUD building. This program is accessed by all three HUD Buildings: Kings Road, West Knoll, and Palm Avenue.
The LA LGBT Center’s Senior Services program continues to provide lunches to its participants. Lunches are available through an outdoor pick up program between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., based on availability, at the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg facility.
On March 16, the West Hollywood City Council was among the first to pass an eviction moratorium to keep our renters in their existing housing. With about 80% of West Hollywood residents facing rent payments by the first of the month, the city has created a place on its website to explain the protections in place for renters, including financial assistance programs for those struggling to pay their rent. These emergency protections are in addition to the existing rights provided to renters through the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance. We were already in the midst of a homelessness crisis; we simply cannot afford to see anyone else losing their home.
For renters looking for guidance on how to communicate with your landlord, the city has created a template letter to notify their landlord and provide documentation of a financial impact due to the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19 Pandemic). The ordinance does not relieve the tenant from eventually paying the rent within six months after the expiration of the local emergency. However, the landlord may not charge a late fee on the rent.
Please keep in mind that different cities have enacted different legislation with different protections, so it is important to keep track of what the City of West Hollywood specifically guarantees for our renters. If you have questions, you can visit the city’s webpage for renting in West Hollywood or you can call (323) 848-6450. Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) continues to provide assistance for renters, also.
I have heard from residents who are requesting that the Council authorize a rent freeze. The city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) already provides for how a rent increase is calculated annually for rent stabilized units. That process usually takes place during the summer months and considers the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of the Los Angeles area. In the past, the allowed increase has ranged from 0% to a maximum of 3%. Recently, the Mayor of Los Angeles took executive action to prohibit rent increases on RSO units, and I have confirmed with the City Attorney that the West Hollywood City Council has the legal authority to do the same, if we so choose. I have asked for such a rent freeze to be included for consideration at our upcoming Council meeting on April 6. We must do all we can to keep people in housing during this difficult time.
The businesses and customers that have made West Hollywood’s economy strong are showing up in a variety of ways for those experiencing economic hardship. WEHOville reported on some of the creative ways that different members of our WeHo business community are trying to help out. Kudos to businesses like Andaz West Hollywood, which worked with employees to keep them on their existing healthcare plans during this public health crisis, and Craig’s, which is keeping all employees with pay and benefits while the local emergency order is in effect.
The City Council took action on March 16 and gave direction to support the business community and workers through emergency supportive services. On March 25th, the City Manager issued an additional Emergency Executive Order of the City Manager/Director of Emergency Services of the City of West Hollywood implementing emergency measures to assist local businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.
City staff continues to work with the business community to support our West Hollywood economy through this crisis, and they have created a repository of information on the city website, including resources for West Hollywood workers. I have been in touch with Governor Newsom about ways the State of California can help cities like ours whose economies rely on the hospitality industry. Additionally, the federal stimulus package will provide more resources for businesses and individual employees. West Hollywood legislative staff is hard at work deciphering what is possible, and I have been in direct communication with Congressmember Adam Schiff about how our local government can access the resources granted to states and counties for cities as part of the approved bill. More measures will be coming forward at our next City Council meeting on Monday, April 6, as well.
I want to make sure that West Hollywood businesses are up-and-running as soon as it is safe and smart to do so, and that workers have the support, care, and resources they need during this difficult time. Eliminating trash collection fees for businesses that are closed, delaying the upcoming year’s sewer assessment, or reducing business license tax payments are tangible ways that the city can help businesses recoup some of their costs in this time of lost revenue, but they are just a start. We also have to do more for workers in West Hollywood, as we have many contract/gig economy workers – in addition to hospitality workers – who have no safety net. I have asked the City Manager and City Attorney to work on plans that address the following issues:
- Ability for workers to get back to work in the jobs they were in before the crisis began;
- Access to healthcare coverage for employees during this public health crisis; and
- Creation of a resource center that can get West Hollywood workers back to work in other jobs in West Hollywood as they become available. (Perhaps there can be a partnership with the West Hollywood Chamber and JVS.)
I firmly believe our entire City Council wants to do all we can to support our economy through this time of struggle and hardship, and I welcome community input on the ways that the city can best help people be successful and get back to work.
PUBLIC SAFETY & QUALITY OF LIFE
I have spoken with our L.A. Sheriff’s Department Captain, Ed Ramirez, about our local station’s plan to keep people safe from crime during this crisis. I have also spoken with our L.A. County Fire Department Acting Chief, Mike Brown, about our stations’ efforts to protect people’s safety and health. And I have been in regular contact with our Code Compliance manager, Danny Rivas, whose team is helping to enforce both our existing city code and the county’s new orders.
The LA County “Safer at Home” order is still in effect. If you don’t have to be out, L.A. County is asking all people – especially those who are 65+ years old or have pre-existing conditions – to stay safe at home and limit in-person contact. We all have a part to play in keeping each other safe.
Unfortunately, there has been an increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) scams involving fraudulent and malicious websites, email schemes, and phishing emails containing suspicious links, as well as dishonest door-to-door asks for donations. Local law enforcement and public officials across the region are urging community members to exercise caution.
One important way to help our public safety officials is by being good neighbors. This is a hard time for everyone, and it can be particularly challenging for people who must continue to work from home. Here are some suggestions for ways to be a good neighbor, especially for people living in multi-unit buildings:
– Keep noise to a minimum. The more we can be considerate of each other, the better our quality of life will be as we wait for this crisis to be over.
– Smoke outside. Obviously, smoking is not good for anyone’s personal health. However, for people who choose to smoke, please consider stepping outside, at least 500 feet from the entrances to buildings, while practicing social distancing. Many people are suffering from respiratory complications – chronically or as a result of COVID-19 spread – and second hand smoke exacerbates their condition and symptoms.
– Check in on neighbors, especially our seniors. Many of us live alone in our units, so it is hard to ask for help. Help neighbors by running to the grocery or to pick up a prescription.
STAYING UP-TO-DATE ON WEST HOLLYWOOD INFORMATION
The City of West Hollywood will continue to post updates on its website at www.weho.org/coronavirus and the city encourages community members to follow @wehocity on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, and to turn on notifications, for up-to-date information regarding details in the City of West Hollywood.
To view essential-business City meetings, tune in to WeHoTV at:
- Spectrum Channel 10 (in West Hollywood)
- AT&T U-verse Channel 99 (in Southern California)
- SmartTV Apps: AndroidTV; AppleTV; FireTV; and Roku
Please also join me for a town hall discussion this Thursday evening, April 2 at 7 p.m. This will be another opportunity to hear more about what the City of West Hollywood is doing for the community, to ask questions, and to share thoughts about what more we can be doing to help support one another during this crisis. In the meantime, please stay healthy, stay safe, stay home.