LocationAlhambra , CA
The Alhambra City Council gathered in special teleconference meeting Monday afternoon to consider several items including formal discussion of how to use special CDBG-CV funding for COVID-19 relief, whether to repeal the city’s eviction prohibition ordinance and adopt the language of a stronger L.A. County measure, and, also, to offer guidance on what to do about the planned 4th of July fireworks.
First, however, City Manager Jessica Binnquist reported on COVID-19 related developments to the council. She offered more details on the city’s financial situation related to the projected decline in sales tax and other revenues. Measure AL, which was approved in the March election, was projected to add $8.1 million annually to the budget but that figure is now projected to be $1.3 million less. And other sales tax revenues are expected to be down $2.4 million. All of this makes the next fiscal year challenging for Alhambra’s budget.
The current budget is also looking “dire” Binnquist said, with projections that the city will be $600,000 in the red at the end of the current fiscal year.
City staff presented the council with options under the Community Development Block Grant CV-funds. The city will receive $596,598 in this coronavirus funding but it could only be used for certain purposes.
The city staff report, presented by Assistant City Manager Lucy Garcia, recommended the funding be basically split into two major chunks. About $300,000 of the total would be used to set up a COVID-19 testing facility for low-income residents and the second would be for housing assistance for low-to-moderate income households.
The COVID-19 testing program would be for four weeks and offer free tests to community residents at a mostly drive-up location on Second Street across from Alhambra High School.
The testing was projected to take place starting in early May and run through the end of the month. Council members Adele Andrade-Stadler wondered if walk-up testing for those in the community who didn’t have vehicles would be available. Council member Jeff Maloney also expressed concern on that issue and they were informed that provisions were being made to accommodate those arriving on foot or through senior ride share programs.
Two options were presented in housing assistance with a total spending being another $300,000 chunk. The city would use a lottery system of qualified applicants to determine who gets the assistance, which would run from June through August, 2020.
Option A suggested a $1,000 a month payment to be made directly to landlords or mortgage holders for households deemed eligible based on HUD family-income restrictions. The total households expected to benefit here would probably be no more than 100.
Option B in this scenario would be a payment of $500 for three months and would benefit as many at 200 households.
And, finally, some $6,568 was earmarked for additional meal support for seniors.
The total budget came to $607,368 and the overage from the approximately $596,000 could be made up from existing CDBG block grant funds.
Maloney voiced concern that the city be especially active in promoting the use of these CDBG-CV funds making sure that those who either need the economic help or the medical testings — seniors mainly — be informed through an aggressive media and public outreach campaign including diverse language publications.
After an active discussion, council agreed on the use of the funding as outlined by city staff and on the housing question, voted for Option B noting that while the individual funding was smaller the aid would help more people.
Next up was the discussion of what to do with the city’s eviction ordinance as it now relates to the newly passed L.A. County measure. One of the key parts of the county measure, passed last week, involved repayment of overdue rents. The county ordinance now allows for a 12-month period for repayment of rent not paid in the moratorium period which runs until May 31.
On March 27, the city of Alhambra adopted an emergency ordinance establishing an eviction moratorium mirroring the then county ordinance which offered protections, also until May 31. Both measures then had a six-month repayment window.
According to the Monday’s council agenda, which can be found here, the council had the option to embrace the new county timeline but would have first had to repeal its own measure, which would have required a 4/5th vote of members.
Many council members voiced real concern over the dilemma posed here understanding that as the crisis grows more renters — Alhambra is a city where 60% of the housing is rental — would be impacted by job losses and other economic hardships.
But council members also expressed concern over what the 12 month repayment time frame would mean for property owners, many of them what one caller termed “mom and pop” landlords, as they try to navigate the financial uncertainties of the post-COVID-19 world. How do they make up the shortfall of possibly not having rent coming in for a year? How do they satisfy their mortgage lenders and keep from foreclosures?
And some council members were opposed to seeming to rubber-stamping the County Board of Supervisors’ action and thus giving up a sense of local control.
For those reasons, three on the council: Mayor Ross Maza, Vice Mayor David Mejia and Council Member Katherine Lee were opposed to making any change and the urgency action, which needed a 4/5 vote, failed.
Council member Andrade-Stadler, who identified herself as a landlord, embraced the change and council member Maloney offered a more nuanced argument leaning in favor.
Those strongly in favor of keeping the Alhambra ordinance in place said that it certainly can be reconsidered as the realities of the new economy become more apparent.
Public comment in the teleconference was heated.
As much as the CDBG-CV funding recommendation was applauded by those listening into the call and then commenting, many were angry that tenants were not gaining additional protections to match the county measure.
Perhaps the realities of the post-COVID-19 “Safer-at-Home” restrictions came during the opening of the meeting when Binnquist requested some guidance from the council on either cancelling or modifying the annual Fourth of July Fireworks at Almansor Park.
The city, which is in the first year of a three-year contract with Garden State Fireworks, can negotiate to get a large portion of the first year fee of $34,000 back but must act by the end of May.
It seemed clear that while no council member wanted to cancel the fireworks or 4th of July celebrations but there was little faith that any lifting of the county Health Officer Order would allow for such gatherings.
“I don’t think we can contemplate fireworks shows until we have a vaccine,” said Maloney.
The council agreed that the city should proceed and try to adjust the contract on this year’s payment and hope that the 4th of July in 2021 looked at lot different.