Beverly Hills City Government Adapts to COVID-19
While the ability to conduct business as usual evaporated across the world in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Beverly Hills continues to operate to the best of its capacity, albeit in a very modified way. Worldwide, 1.6 million people have contracted the virus, including 460,000 in the United States. Locally, as of April 9, there were 7,995 confirmed cases in L.A. County, including 71 in Beverly Hills and 98 in West Hollywood.
“I’m very proud of the level of service we continue to provide to Beverly Hills,” Mayor Lester Friedman told the Courier. “In the midst of a public health crisis, City employees from across all departments remain committed to the critical functions our community depends on.”
Indeed, the City Council has held multiple virtual meetings via Zoom since the Countywide “Safer at Home” mandate, even its annual mayoral installation ceremony last week.
Following a 2006 directive by the Federal Government that cities write a pandemic plan, Director of Emergency Management, Resilience & Recovery Pamela Mottice- Muller said the City not only authored its own, but also performed practice exercises over the years. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City continues to update its business plan to stay ever-responsive, in addition to also planning how to respond in case another disaster hits. She underscored the importance of maintaining the City’s capacity to provide critical and essential services while also keeping the government running, no matter what Beverly Hills may encounter.
“We’ve always planned for this. The structure and everything we have in place, we have planned for and practiced for,” Mottice-Muller told the Courier. “It is amazing how quickly the City mobilizes. There is really a commitment from the City and the Council and staff to support this community. And I think that’s the key. It’s more than the Police Department and the Fire Department. It’s everybody, and all the departments are working hard to make sure that we can respond.”
In addition to Beverly Hills Police and Fire, employees operating in the real world include those in Public Works, the Office of Emergency Management, IT, Code Enforcement, Rangers and Ambassadors, among others. The City also provides frequent updates to the community via a comprehensive webpage dedicated to COVID-19 (beverlyhills.org/coronavirus) as well as through various social media channels, public signage and direct mail, while the Human Services Division continues to reach out directly to the City’s seniors and most vulnerable. City Spokesperson Keith Sterling, who told the Courier that “in an event like this, we cannot communicate enough,” said that trash continues to be picked up regularly with its service provider getting to alleys at least once a week and spot checking all alleys frequently given that people are doing a lot of “cleaning out” right now.
Twice daily roughly 45 to 55 people participate on virtual briefings via the City’s Emergency Operations Center, which allows representatives from all City departments to come together to respond to various developments and constantly evolve planned responses.
Mottice-Muller estimated that between 250 to 300 City employees come to work each day to provide the essential services to keep the City up and running, further supported by hundreds of employees working remotely. Sterling told the Courier that Beverly Hills is committed to paying all of its roughly 1,000 employees through April 24, after which time that might change. To date, no employees had been furloughed or put on reduced pay with the exception of the City’s “on-call” employees that didn’t have a regular number of hours they worked. The City Council will be meeting on April 21 and is expected to discuss the fiscal outlook moving forward.
On April 5, City staff were informed that they needed to adhere to a bevy of directives in order to maintain a safe and healthy workplace for employees and the community. In addition to self-monitoring and tracking themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, the common cold and Influenza, City employees are asked to take their temperature before and after work and if an employee has a fever 100°F or higher, cough, trouble breathing or other symptoms of the common cold or Influenza, they are being told to not report to work, in addition to contacting their supervisor.
While the City cannot disclose personal health information, Sterling told the Courier that he was aware of one City employee who had tested positive for COVID-19. “The City notified those who may have been in close contact with the employee and has taken all necessary and appropriate steps to ensure the continued safety of all employees,” he said.
On April 3, roughly a week before the City mandated that all persons, including essential workers, must wear protective face coverings in public starting April 10 when they leave their homes, even to take a walk, City employees received an email that recommended they wear their own face coverings “out of an abundance of caution.” Staff was told they could wear solid colored bandanas, neck gaiters, homemade face coverings, and scarves.
“Because of new scientific information that raises concern for possible transmission of COVID-19 while people are asymptomatic, it seems advisable at this time to wear cloth face coverings while in public to protect others,” stated the email from Director of Human Resources Shelley Ovrom. “We are expecting official guidance from the CDC as they review and consider the evidence, so our recommendations are subject to change. Wearing a face covering can reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when you speak, cough, or sneeze, and protects the people near you.”
While no one knows definitively when the number of COVID-19 cases will peak locally, Mottice-Muller emphasized that it was critical that for the next two weeks people stay home as much as possible, particularly given the disease’s long incubation period where those who are infected are often asymptomatic. Beginning April 11 at 6 p.m. through April 13 at 6 a.m., all City parks, fields, sports courts and other recreational facilities will be closed, with the exception of public restrooms which will remain open during normal hours.
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to stay home,” she said, “and wear these face coverings and do not touch your mouth, your nose, your face.”
The City’s Fire Department personnel remains on the front lines in responding to patients experiencing symptoms of the virus.
Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli told the Courier that a decrease in the City’s overall crime in the wake of the pandemic “has been really helpful” as far as freeing up officers to spend time patrolling the City. In addition, she said that the incoming 911 calls were “significantly” down to generally 80 to 100 calls a day now, with a marked diminishment in Priority 1 calls. For example, on April 7 she said there were zero Priority 1 calls.
“We want to make sure we have the visibility our community expects. We want to have a visible presence in the community so that people know they are safe,” Spagnoli told the Courier. “We continue to make sure that we’re responding in less than three minutes to Priority 1 calls.”
While Beverly Hills Police officers continue making traffic stops and arrests, she said they were being proactive in their approach to safety by taking appropriate precautions, including using gloves, a mask and glasses. However, they often find themselves giving people warnings to practice social distancing, an edict that is too often not adhered to in the local parks, she said.
“We’re seeing a lot of violations in the parks,” Spagnoli said, noting that the department continues to educate people against violating the rules of social distancing as opposed to ticketing them. “People should not be getting together in large groups.”