Last night, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council held an online presentation with representatives of a variety of city agencies and departments, who provided updates on the current status of the city’s COVID-19 responses, and other news from each of their organizations.
Los Angeles County
After welcoming attendees to the session, GWNC President Caroline Labiner Moser turned over the virtual podium to Erin Seinfeld, a field deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Seinfeld noted that the County’s “Safer at Home” order, closing all non-essential businesses, which was originally issued on March 21, has now been extended to May 15. She also said that local hospital demand projections show that the order, along with other social distancing measures, does seem to be working…but she also warned that if the restrictions are lifted too soon, we could “severly hamper efforts” to control the spread of the virus.
According to Seinfeld, 10,496 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in LA County as of yesterday, with 20,704 (26%) of those patients hospitalized. There have been 402 COVID-19-related deaths in LA County so far, with 33% of those in institutional settings.
Seinfeld said that 11% of people tested by the County have turned out to be positive for the virus, and testing has now been expanded, with same-day or next-day appointments available to anyone currently showing symptoms.
Seinfeld also reported that there are now three tiers of special housing services available for homeless residents, including Project Room Key, which finds hotel or motel rooms for people who are asymptomatic and need shelter, a medical shelter program, which provides isolation and quarantine for individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19, and congregate shelter sites, such as those recently opened at local park recreation centers.
The Board of Supervisors, Seinfeld said, is also working on new protections for “essential” workers, a Small Business Assistance Program, and has expanded the County’s eviction moratorium for renters to all areas of LA County. In addition, the LA County Department of Mental Health has partnered with Verizon to create two new crisis hotlines, and has ramped up its 211 county information services.
Specifically for seniors, Seinfeld noted, the County has an Elderly Nutrition Program, which delivers meals, and a free Critical Delivery Service, which can send people to pick up urgent items such as food and prescriptions. There’s also an LA County Disaster Help Center for other kinds of assitance for businesses, workers, non-profits, tenants and landlords. For more information about these programs and others, Seinfeld said, people should visit the County’s COVID-19 portal at covid19.lacounty.gov. She also invited anyone with specific questions to contact her at [email protected].
Next, Angie Aramayo, from the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, noted that as of yesterday, the city now has 30 COVID-19 testing locations open to the public (up from 28 in the previous couple of weeks), and those locations can now test up to 10,700 people per day.
Aramayo also said the city has been busy enforcing the current “Safer at Home” retrictions, and 79 businesses have been reported by the Los Angeles Police Department to the City Attorney for non-compliance with the current closure orders.
In the area of transportation, Aramayo noted that the city’s relaxation of Permit Parking restrictions has been extended until May 15 (it was originally scheduled to end yesterday), and Metro has put all of its bus and train routes on a “modified Sunday schedule” due to lower ridership.
For more information on the city’s crisis response and resources, Aramayo invited people to visit the city’s website at http://www.corona-virus.la, to call the Mayor’s Help Desk at (213) 978-1028 with general questions, or – for more specific inquiries – to contact her directly at [email protected].
City Council District 4
Representing the office of City Council Member David Ryu, Field Deputy Rob Fisher explained that renters who would like to take advantage of the City’s current rent deferment program should provide a written statement to their landlords within 7 days after their first missed rent payment, specifying that they cannot pay due to COVID-19 hardships. After the current crisis restrictions have been lifted, Fisher said, tenants will have up to 12 months to make up the missed payments, with no fees or interest. A fact sheet about the rent deferment program, and a template to notify landlords of tenant hardships, is available at the Housing and Community Investment Department’s website. Fisher also said that Council Member Ryu is also working to extend financial protections even further for both renters and landlords, with actual payment forgiveness and not just deferments (though that has not been finalized yet).
Fisher noted that CD 4 is also providing special assistance for seniors during the crisis, including deliveries, phone calls, and even cleaning services (paid for with Ryu’s discretionary funds). And the City’s Department of Aging is providing even more resources for older residents.
Following up on Aramayo’s comments about businesses that violate the “Safer at Home” closure restrictions, Fisher noted that if the violations continue after the initial report, in addition to escalating complaints to the City Attorney, there are also other remedies, such as having the DWP shut off the violator’s water and power.
CD 4 Director of Planning Emma Howard also participated in last night’s event, and in response to a question from an audience member, noted that tenants can report landlord or maintenance worker violations of the current restrictions and social distancing protocols to HCID. “Don’t be quiet about it,” she advised. “Reach out as soon as possible.”
Howard also reported that the City is experimenting with online meetings for several of the various Planning agencies, and noted that the Cultural Heritage Commission completed an online meeting, as a test, last week. If all goes well, she said, the Central Planning Commission, and maybe some of the Area Planning Commissions, will be able to hold online meetings, too, in the near future.
One good outcome of the current crisis, Howard said, is that it’s pushing the city to put more of its planning information and services online, which has been needed for a long time. She said her office is urging the city to put Letters of Determination, which are the official closure notices for planning cases, online as they do with case application information, and to send out regular reports listing recent Letters of Determination, as they do with application notices, to anyone who’s interested. That kind of service, she said, would be a huge help to Neighborhood Councils and other who track specific cases.
Currently, Howard said, the land use appeals process has already become fully digital – people who would like to appeal a land use determination can now apply online. And new land use application filings are also now available online – you no longer have to visit the Planning Department in person to apply. She also said she would like to see the city make construction plans and other documents available online soon as well.
City Council District 5
Kevin Nahai, field deputy for City Council Member Paul Koretz, reported that the Council Member submitted a motion two weeks ago seeking to reduce construction hours during the crisis, to help give people now working from home a bit of a break from construction-related noise and parking congestion during business hours. He also reported that Koretz is working on new restrictions for Short Term Rentals in the city, to help make them safer and more sanitary for people who are using them for isolation (or to distance themselves from a quarantined household member) during the COVID-19 crisis.
Building on the information Fisher provided about the city’s rent deferment program (see the CD 4 section above), Nahai clarified that if tenants are still able to pay their rent during the crisis, they should, because it “helps prevent trouble down the road.” He explained that only hardships specifically related to COVID-19 will be covered by the deferment protections; tenants will not be freed from payments, interest or fees if they can pay but simply choose not to. “The only reason you should not pay rent right now is if your hardship is COVID-19 related,” Nahai reiterated.
On other topics, Nahai noted that because of the current restrictions, many city services are slow at the moment…and so is the city’s response to various kinds of service complaints. He also reported that the Department of Transportation is setting up “safe food pickup zones” near restaurants, to make it easier for people to patronize essential businesses.
Captain Shannon Paulson, commanding officer of LAPD’s Wilshire Division, reported that although our current situation is “abnormal,” LAPD is not having any staffing issues so far that would affect the division’s ability to serve its community. And, she explained, even if illnesses or other issues do start to affect staffing levels at some point, LAPD divisions are well versed in sending staff where they’re needed, and covering temporary shortages and challenges for other divisions, when those situations arise.
Paulson also said that Wilshire Division contains three major hospitals, and that she has met with and is in ongoing contact with all of them. She said LAPD and the hospitals are fully prepared to work together to maintain the hospitals’ safe operations, but so far the medical centers have had “no issues” in serving their patients. In fact, Paulson said, Cedars Sinai has even reported a recent decrease in emergency room visits, likely because patients who otherwise might visit for non-emergency situations are staying away right now.
On the issue of businesses that do not comply with current shutdown orders, Paulson said those orders do have “the force of law,” and that LAPD will send officers out when it gets complaints of violations. The goal, she said, however, is not as much to punish the businesses as it is to achieve “voluntary compliance.” She said responding officers first try to educate the violators, explaining how the rules are for the well-being of all residents, and then advise them that if they do not comply, a criminal complaint could be filed. Before imposing any punishments, Paulson said, the officers make a follow-up visit later, to see if the business has complied with the rules. And “in almost every case we have gained voluntary compliance.” But, she reminded everyone, it is a process, and people shouldn’t expect that just because a complaint was made people will see violators being taken away in handcuffs at the first police visit.
Another area Paulson warned about was scams related to COVID-19. She said that many people are receiving phone calls asking for social security numbers or bank information as a condition of getting their government stimulus checks, but these are ALWAYS scams – the IRS has direct deposit and/or your street address information from your tax returns, and no further information is needed. Also, Paulson said, there are a number of scammers offering COVID-19 test kits, medications, cures, or vaccines…and all of these are also fakes. There are currently no approved COVID-19 vaccines, tests or treatments legally marketed or sold for home use. “100% it’s a scam,” she said.
Finally, Paulson said LAPD is also working hard to protect its own officers from COVID-19, and that as of this week, all officers will wear face coverings, and those likely to come in contact with people who have COVID-19 will be provided with medical-grade N95 masks. Officers will also be following appropriate social distancing protocols, and dispatchers are now asking about possible COVID-19 exposures as a routine part of every phone call. LAPD is also keeping a location of databases where people are known to have COVID-19.
Senior Lead Officer Hebel Rodriguez, reporting on crime in his Basic Car Area in Wilshire Division, said that overall, crime is down right now, and car break-ins and thefts (usually from stores) are the most common crimes right now. Burglaries, he said, are down at the moment, because so many more people are now home all day.
Senior Lead Officer Joe Pelayo, from Olympic Division, noted a similar drop in crimes, and said thefts from cars are also the most frequent kind of incident in his area right now. He said that overall, the current crisis has generally helped reduce crime, though his area does still have some street crimes in certain areas.
Ned Racine, Senior Public Relations officer for the Purple Line Subway Extension, reported that the new Wilshire/La Brea station is now 59% complete, while the Fairfax station is 41% complete, and the La Cienega station is at 29% completion. He said crews are current pouring the concrete roof structure at La Brea, and that Elsie, the first of the line’s two Tunnel Boring Machines, reached Fairfax Ave. on April 4. The second machine, Soyeon, is scheduled to arrive at Fairfax on June 1. Meanwhile, Elsie will begin moving west from Fairfax toward La Cienega on April 27. And in addition to those activities, crews are also busy building cross-passages to connect the two tunnels, at approximately 800-foot intervals along the stretches of tunnels that have been completed so far.
Racine also said that Metro, too, is taking many steps to protect its workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Many office staffers (including him) are working from home, construction workers are now required to wear both masks and face shields, and workers are practicing social distancing wherever possible (though offical safety rules Do require people to stand closer together when performing certain specific kinds of tasks). Construction workers are also required to wear gloves, hardhats, and vests, Racine said…and they have staggered crew shifts, to reduce the number of people at each site at any given time.
Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council
Finally, Moser closed the session, thanking the speakers and noting that the GWNC is also working toward holding online meetings that will be in compliance with city rules. She also reported that the Council has received $5,000 in emergency funds from the city, which the board’s officers can use at their discretion. So far, Moser said, they have made donations of $500 each to the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (for the new homeless shelter at the Pan Pacific Recreation Center), the YMCA (to fund showers, towels, toiletries and snacks for the homeless), and Alexandria House (which is providing food and shelter to those in need). Moser said the group is currently still deciding how to use the rest of the funding.