March 26, 2020 - From the March, 2020 issue

Mayor Garcetti COVID-19 Update and Q&A

With cities and states taking the lead on coordinating the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TPR shares excerpts of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s remarks from the March 25th coronavirus update, which includes Q & A from press. Visit the city's website for more resources and details on  Los Angeles City COVID-19 actions to date. 


Eric Garcetti

“We are strengthening our response to the COVID-19 emergency every day: taking new steps to relax parking enforcement; closing Runyon Canyon, Bronson Canyon the Venice Pier and beach parking lots to deter crowds; and helping to ensure Angelenos have the resources they need to get unemployment assistance and other support during this crisis.”—Eric Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti: Every one of the changes we’re making is about the same principle: that you are safer at home, that your lives are more protected indoors. It's our responsibility to remove any obstacles that stand between you and your safety. This city is here for you, I am here for you, the 40,000 employees of this city and so many other professionals from our school district to our county to the city where you live in [are here for you].

Los Angeles, one thing has never been more clear than it is right now. You are here for each other. This is an all hands-on deck moment. They're going to be nights when I come and talk to you, and we’re going to be talking terrible nights. Some of you will be mourning loved ones in the hospital or even lost. We have not seen the darkest days, but we will march forward, and we will march forward together.

This morning, I was on the phone with a rabbi who was talking about Psalms. We all know the Psalm that talks about walking through the shadow of the valley of death. He said, “shadows are only shadows because there is light.”

There is so much evidence that there is light out there, and so as you feel this darkness know that whether it's the love of people around us, our own discipline to stay at home, or brave workers that are out there making sure we can get what we need to get as many people through, that we will walk through that valley together and that there is light evidence of it every single day inside each one of us.

For those who can afford it, it means helping each other out; buying a meal; donating to the United Way or the Mayor's Fund. I want to thank somebody who stepped up big time, Eric and Susan Smith, who are the owners of Harbor Freight Tools. Eric is a Valley boy like me who grew up here and grew a business that is now known across this country. They have stepped up today to say that they will donate $1 million to help Angelenos in greatest need, to help healthcare workers get child care so that they can continue to serve us in some of the most dangerous conditions during this crisis.

Amy and I are so grateful to you for your donation and those other donations that have come forward. We are all digging deep to make sure each one of us can get through this. From Wilmington to Woodland Hills, from Boyle Heights to Brentwood, north-south and east-west. This is a united city, and we don't have borders around our city, from San Bernardino to Ventura, from the Antelope Valley all the way down to Orange County, we feel the love that encircles us here in Southern California.

Those stories we see are all around us, like the church in South LA that's given away hundreds of care packages to single parents, low income families and seniors, with food, diapers, canned goods, the essentials to get their families through this crisis.

Or, the impromptu coalition on the Eastside that kicked into action and created a delivery system for food pantries in their area, coordinating volunteers and pooling resources to pick up food and drop off bags.

 Folks on motorcycles that are going across town to pick up a couple dozen masks and delivering them to medical personnel who need them.

The LA restaurant executive who saw that dining rooms across the city were closing and in just 48 hours started the online movement #TheGreatAmericanTakeout. I remind you, it's a great night for takeout, pick up the phone when you're done with this, call your favorite restaurant, and keep them going. Now, we're encouraging folks around the nation to do the same, helping to keep the lights on the doors open and people employed.

We are in this together. This is our moment, Los Angeles, to lead together, to come together, and I've never been more proud to call Los Angeles, my home. I thank you that during these difficult days, and there will be many more ahead of us, for your spirit, the way you're lifting up each other and lifting up our city. Know that your city is here for you every step of the way. As I say each night, stay safe, stay healthy, stay home. Strength and love, Los Angeles.

Press Question: Let's talk for a moment about the timing of all this. We know you spoke with Business Insider earlier, suggesting that it could be two months where this all is going to be lasting. Where do you get that from, what are the models you're seeing showing? Is what we're seeing in New York a preview of what we're likely going to be seeing here in Los Angeles?

Straight talk is what I've tried to bring to this crisis. Folks who think that we're going to be done in a couple weeks, that's simply not the case anywhere in the world that's been afflicted. The only place that's having a lifting of orders like the ones we have are in Wuhan, and that's going to be in April. That will have been three and a half months in a place with pretty tight restrictions. They were the first city, and they didn't know to do things before this started. We did, it could be less than that. But, it is difficult for me to see any scenario in which this is less than a couple months.

My mantra is ‘when it feels wrong, that's the right moment; when it feels right, by then it's too late’. It will be the same on the back end. There will be some who say, “the curve is flattening a little bit, let's just open everything up.” We're seeing in places that relax it, even a little bit, that it can spike right back up very quickly.

We have to be disciplined, not because I like to be or because I have information nobody else does, but if you look at it across the board, it's very clear that this will take time, it will require discipline, and we will not in Los Angeles lift those orders any earlier than it's necessary—guided by public health professionals.

We do projections, and I found a piece of paper I had done 10 days ago looking at the rate of increase in LA County and estimating what it would be moving forward. It's almost dead on accurate. We are about six days—maybe 12 at the outset if our earlier distancing measures work—from where New York City is. In the county, we estimate already—before seeing COVID-19 patients—that our bed capacity, depending on whether it's ICU beds or overall beds, is 75 to 90 percent filled.

That shouldn't alarm people yet, because that's where we often are, but it should alarm us that we don't have the reserves. We're working very quickly to make sure we have more beds and can prepare the county and other cities as well. People really need to get ready, prepare yourself for that, and plan for it economically, financially, or psychologically, and certainly for our health. Be prepared to stay at home.

Can you comment on the COVID-19 response bill reached by Congress late yesterday? Additionally, there's money in the proposal for homelessness. How is the City going to specifically use that money? 

Mayor Eric Garcetti:  As I mentioned, we think it's about $32 million that will come in what's called Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG)—something that we get each year—but these are an emergency allocation of those. They used to be emergency shelter grants, so they're primarily used for shelter. We hope we can use those for the hotel rooms we're working on with the county and state—600 that have already been identified, at least. We're hoping to get that to 2000 and upwards for the shelters that we've stood up with best practices from public health in our recreation centers. The first nine of those are at capacity, 13 will be open by weekend’s end, and we can go up to as many as 42 of those.

We'll also be looking at our first responders and LAHSA, our homeless services outreach workers on the streets. I'd like to also see whether it's flexible enough for us to be able to do the testing on the streets, as testing capacity picks up. In places like Skid Row, I think that's absolutely critical to public health. I've always given a huge shout out to Barbara Ferrera and her staff, really extraordinary folks at the county level, and we're working with them to figure out that practice—tests that can be done on site, for instance, without having to be sent someplace. You have to find that person the next day, which can be more challenging on the streets.

That would be great use of those two, but we're waiting. A lot of the Washington language is literally being written while we speak right now. We know the broad categories, but we don't know the specifics. We would be willing to combine those $32 million with the $19 million that we do already have in hand from the state. It's going to go towards housing, isolation units towards, and health care for our unhoused.

Before all this, the city was at potential budget shortfall of several hundred million dollars. Can you talk about what you think this might do to the city's economy, especially with the lack of sales revenue coming in during the crisis? 

Mayor Eric Garcetti: My first priority is to save lives. We have the biggest reserve fund in our city's history. It is about double what it was before the 2008 crisis, but this is going to be a more extreme crisis, and we hope a less long lasting one over the period of years. Right now, I can't justify not using the reserve funds. Obviously, anything comes from the state and the federal government, and we have budget folks that are looking at that right now. All of our departments have a hiring freeze we put in place. I’ve told them to not do anything that's non-essential to city services that are critical, or to the COVID-19 fight. We've repurposed dollars that were going to other programs to help small businesses etc.

We can only spend what we have, but I'm confident that we will be able to use those dollars in the short term. We will hope that most of those—and have many indications that much of that work that we do—can be FEMA reimbursed, but you're exactly right. When we come up for air, there will be less revenues, there will be a bigger gap, and we will have to make as we've done in years past, the necessary cuts and balance the budget.

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I'm very proud that over the last seven years, we've bounced the budget every single year, made our credit rating go up, our reserve accounts grow bigger—both in absolute and percentage terms—and that work will continue. You have reserve funds precisely for emergencies, this is that moment. We have a reserve fund that's much bigger than any gap we had to close this year. We have money that we can spend, we will spend it because it will save lives.

Can you give us any insight to the emergency City Council meeting on Friday? Also, has anyone in your administration or on the City Council tested positive? 

Not that I know of, but I can't confirm for all 15 of them. I know that the City Council is working out some of the mechanisms for doing their meeting technologically while keeping the public and each of the members of the council safe.

I'm glad that they're having that meeting on Friday. I know that they have literally hundreds of motions. I've been calling all the council members regularly and they've really been extraordinary friends, advisors, activists, hustling to help businesses stay open, helping out with everything from testing to small business loans, etc.; they've done a heroic job.

Wherever possible, I've asked them if there’s anything legislatively that you need done, that I can just do through executive order? That's what I've been doing, for instance, on the eviction moratorium, on some of the restrictions we put in place, etc. So, I look forward to continuing to work with them.

I don't believe anybody's tested positive that I've heard of, and other than that, I'm really glad that they will be able to carry on the people's business. I think that's critically important, and I hope the public will understand that those meetings will be a little bit more difficult. We will abide by the aspects of the Brown Act that have not been waived for all of the meetings we do, whether it's City Council, Commission's, or any of our boards.

 Mr. Mayor, you've been talking about the desperate need to get more beds up and running. Any plans for the possibility of opening up some of the closed sports venues around the city—Staples Center or other locations—to try to hire some of these beds? 

Absolutely, any and every place is on the table. A place like Staples Center is a pretty small space compared to the Convention Center. Whether it's the hotels and motels who need our help badly right now—who in the beginning who were saying they don't know if they want to take patients—have now said absolutely.

We would take patients people who need isolation and quarantine, folks that aren't deeply simply symptomatic, or even if we want to set up in some places with medical personnel with the ability to monitor folks who have some symptoms, but there isn't an emergency room bed or there isn't a hospital bed available for them.

Everything's on the table, we're looking at the convention center together with the county, just as you've seen in New York City. That's a great space and there's no conventions going on. We've looked at sports venues, I had a conference call with all of our LA sports teams, and no matter who you root for everybody was united when it came to COVID-19. The Rams just did their drive yesterday, the Dodgers kicked in money to the mayor's relief fund that we talked about, and so many others have stepped up in big ways. We will use whatever spaces and places. There's also theaters that are available, we've had some folks from studios reach out with soundstages that have their own ventilation. You can hang things that are industrial from them that could be for our medical equipment.

We're looking at all those, we have a team at our emergency operation center and helping out the county who I know is doing the same so that we work hand in glove with them.

Regarding the Small Business Administration Micro Loan Program, can you comment on complications with the web-application process and the expected timeframe for fund disbursal?

We're trying to figure out ways, not only to simplify it, but the order that I announced today—that allows departments to be able to do things more quickly—those federal funds had some requirements with them, so we're trying to get that waved so we can do that as quickly as possible, in a matter of days instead of weeks.

In the first couple of days, and you might have filled it out right away. Of course, folks are figuring out how to work at home. We think we have that settled, so we'll follow up with you directly and anybody else who now calls in will be able to have that sort of assistance.

The best news of today too in the package for small businesses was that Small Business Administration now has been greenlit—and I always said we had pennies compared to their dollars—we have pennies compared to their millions of dollars they’ve put forward; a substantial part of this package will be for those loans too. We wanted this to be micro loans that could bridge people while you get bigger ones, and those were part of the bipartisan package in Congress.

 Can you can clarify the city park closure policy? Is it unique to Los Angeles or is it comparable to what LA County is doing?

Right now, our park playgrounds are closed, sports activities are closed, our golfing is closed. We're looking for direction from the county on everything, I just talked to Katherine Barger. The beaches and the parks, we're hoping they have direction for the entire county. We're shutting down Runyon and we're looking quite frankly at what we have to do with all of the trails and all of our parks.

If the county is able to give us that guidance tomorrow, we'll just follow that. If not, we'll probably have some further guidance on that. Until then, we have Runyon closed. Other city parks continue to be open, but our recreation centers are closed, our programs are closed. Our senior feeding is closed, as well. Obviously, our pools are closed as well.

Do you foresee the City laying off at any point, because of the economic hit it's going to take during the crisis. 

No, we don't have any plans to lay anybody off to exacerbate a crisis that already will be tough enough. That is a downward spiral, we feel confident—just as some employers are able to—that we can get through these months with our employees and with the resources that we have.

That should be the last thing that we do, especially as we're asking workers to do incredibly courageous acts in areas they might not have worked in before: for our firefighters, police officers, and others. Absolutely not, the city needs those people more than ever before.

What the City of Los Angeles is doing:

  • Mayor Garcetti announced that L.A. will add thousands of emergency shelter beds to help get homeless Angelenos indoors more quickly as part of comprehensive efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Mayor Garcetti ordered a moratorium on commercial evictions of tenants unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic that will be in place until March 31 unless extended.
  • The Mayor has ordered temporary closure of bars and nightclubs that do not serve food, movie theaters and entertainment venues, bowling alleys and arcades, and gyms and fitness centers. Restaurants, bars and retail food facilities may not serve food for consumption on their premises but may continue to offer food for delivery, takeout or drive-thru. Mayor Garcetti also strongly urged houses of worship to limit large gatherings on their premises and observe social distancing practices in their services.
  • The City of Los Angeles is working closely with the County Department of Public Health (DPH) and the County Office of Emergency Management to share updates, guidance, and information on what actions need to be taken by local governments and the public.
  • The Mayor has ordered all City Departments to review and update Continuity of Operations Plans, to help ensure that City Departments can continue delivering essential services.
  • The Port of Los Angeles and San Pedro Bay Complex are on heightened alert.
  • The Coast Guard is assessing all inbound vessels to determine whether the vessel has visited a country impacted by the Novel Coronavirus within the last five ports of call. Vessel operators are required to report ill crewmembers and passengers within 15 days of arrival to any U.S. port.
  • Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is following the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health — including screening of travelers with possible exposure and ensuring that LAX is following best practices to keep travelers and employees safe:
  1. Installing more than 250 additional hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminals
  2. Using virus and bacteria-killing disinfectants, cleaning terminal public areas and restrooms at least once per hour, and increasing deep cleaning throughout the airport — focusing on “high touch” areas like handrails, escalators, elevator buttons and restroom doors.
  3. Adding signage to high traffic areas, including areas with passengers, with information on COVID-19 symptoms and how to reduce the spread of illness.
  4. Putting procedures in place in the event a passenger approaches an employee and states they may have COVID-19.
  • LADWP will continue to closely monitor the progression of COVID-19 and to communicate with other water industry professionals to ensure the continued safety of our treated water supply. LADWP tap water continues to be of the highest quality and is 100-percent safe to drink. There is no threat to your public drinking water supply and no need to use bottled water.
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