Unique as Newport Beach is in normal times, our community today is no different during this Coronavirus pandemic period than any other city that is deeply concerned about the health of its citizens, employees, visitors and businesses.
City Manager Grace Leung took time out of her extra-challenging days to answer questions about how the city is responding to the coronavirus.
Q: Generally, how have citizens responded to the new self-isolation/social distancing requirements?
A: Based on reports from our field personnel, the majority of citizens are doing exactly what the governor has asked us all to do. They’re staying home and only venturing out for essential needs or to exercise. There have been some issues with groups congregating and with maintaining adequate social distancing in some of our community’s more popular recreation areas, largely due to the number of people that want to be in a limited amount of space. The City has had to temporarily close areas where this is occurring and may close additional locations as necessary.
Q: What are the projected financial impacts to the city, or is it too early to tell?
A: We know there will be significant financial impacts to local government, just as there will be in all sectors of our economy. I don’t have a solid number yet, but we’re developing estimates to share with the City Council. Every department has been asked to reduce their operating budgets. Without question, sales tax and transient occupancy tax revenues, two of our three top sources of revenue, will be substantially lower than our fiscal year projections.
Q: Have any city operations been altered, and if so, what departments and services? How have citizens taken to those alterations?
A: We continue to provide fully staffed public safety operations and other essential services, such as utilities and public works. Some of our services have changed and others are on hold for the duration of this crisis. For example, all recreation and community centers are closed, so our Recreation Department created an “online recreation center” that offers a mix of free and paid workshops and classes. Our library buildings are closed, but our online, e-library has a multitude of free tools and resources that can help those working or studying at home. In addition, we just started a program that allows you to reserve print materials online and pick them up from a library, with a process designed to allow for proper social distancing. The Community Development Department is closed to the public but offers online services and a method for safely dropping off plans for review. A large number of our employees, especially those with administrative and technical roles, are telecommuting. Public safety employees and other essential field staff who cannot work from home are using personal protective equipment and following protocols to help protect them from infection.
Q: Are there any employee furloughs?
A: No. Our staff is currently focused on supporting two key areas:
- Crisis response, meaning, how we respond to and implement the directives and guidance from the federal, state and county governments, on a local level, to reduce the impacts of COVID-19 in our community.
- Providing essential services including public safety, maintenance, water and sewer, code enforcement and the functions necessary to support those services
Q: Will there be a tax break or other relief for closed businesses?
A: There are a number of programs available through the federal and state governments. They include business loans and grants, employer and employee assistance, marketing resources, and more. We encourage business owners to visit our website for a list of resources.
Q: Has the city differed at all from Federal/State operational guidelines re: COVID-19?
A: In any crisis, the Federal Government directs us to follow the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA)’s Incident Command System, which we are doing under the leadership of our City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Governor Gavin Newsom’s office has provided specific guidance for responding to COVID-19, along with county public health agencies throughout the state. We have closely followed the directives, recommendations and guidelines from the State and the Orange County Health Care Agency and will continue to do so.
Q: What have you noticed are the major day-to-day behavioral changes you’ve seen throughout the city in addition to social distancing?
A: The vast majority of our residents are consistently staying at home, going out only for essential items, and practicing responsible social distancing when outdoors. These are difficult and stressful times, and we empathize with residents who are frustrated at being asked to dramatically alter their lives for an unknown length of time. But as the COVID-19 case numbers grow both nationally and here in Orange County, the importance of a coordinated response has become very clear. These steps are necessary to protect the health of our community and save lives. We have also seen residents connect and support one another, especially our seniors. During such a challenging time, the caring and compassion of our community members really shines through.