Councilmembers disagree on whether enforcement of health orders should continue, some side with local businesses

Councilmembers+disagree+on+whether+enforcement+of+health+orders+should+continue%2C+some+side+with+local+businesses

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At last night’s Long Beach City Council meeting, two council members voted against the continuation of the city’s Safer at Home health order.

The motion eventually passed 6-2, with Councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Suzie Price voting against the item in solidarity with local business owners.

“The way the health orders are written, it’s really difficult to fathom how certain activities are being considered not risky and other activities being designated as risky,” Councilmember Suzie Price said. “I really don’t think the city, or the state frankly, should be picking winners and losers in terms of businesses.”

It’s a fine line to balance. Councilmembers want local businesses to reopen, but they’re also tasked with mitigating risk and keeping case numbers down.

The item, which was pulled from the consent agenda for further discussion, gives City Manager Tom Modica the power to enforce the City’s health order. So far, the city has done 11,628 inspections and issued 72 citations for noncompliance.

Even if the motion didn’t pass, the City’s health order would still be in effect, as well as the City’s responsibility to adhere to state guidelines.

Mungo voted against the item in solidarity with businesses in her district who have had to shutter their doors, despite similar businesses being able to reopen.

For example, a massage in a medical office is considered a medical service. Massages that are done outside of medical offices are considered personal care. There are a litany of other businesses that are subject to these guidelines.

“The activity is no more risky,” Mungo said. “So in my mind, I’d like to vote no, that the city manager not enforce fines on businesses that are providing services that, somewhere under the health order, are allowed, as long as those businesses are providing them in a healthy manner.”

However, as case numbers continue to rise, any increase in contact also comes with an increase in risk for transmission of the virus.

Councilmember Mary Zendejas pointed out that in her district, case numbers were still high.

She represents District 1, which lands in the 90813 zip code, has 3,629 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the city’s COVID-19 data portal. Zendejas’s district has the highest COVID-19 positivity rates in the city.

Councilmember Mary Zendejas’s district, has the highest number of case numbers in the city. Councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Suzie Price represent districts with the lowest number of cases. (Image from the City of Long Beach COVID-19 data portal with information from Oct. 13, 2020.)

Mungo’s district, which lands in the 90808 zip code, has the lowest in the city with 1,300 cases per 100,000 residents. Price’s district, on the Southeast side of Long Beach, has the second lowest number of cases.

“If we really want to get to a point that we move forward and open up as a city, we really have to have enforcement […] We don’t want this spread to continue,” Zendejas said. “If we don’t enforce them, we are most likely going to be seeing those businesses continue to be closed and maybe even take us to a deeper shutdown.”

Modica pointed out that all of these guidelines are set forth in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Long Beach currently lands in the “purple tier” where risk is considered to be widespread.

To reopen more businesses, Los Angeles County will have to move to the “red tier” by reducing their daily case numbers. Currently, the county is in the “purple tier,” where risk is considered widespread. (Image from California State Government website.)

He said that the city wouldn’t be able to conduct further reopening until Los Angeles County moves into the “red tier,” which is still considered a “substantial risk.” This would require the county to have four to seven daily cases per 100,000 residents.

As of Oct. 13, Los Angeles County had nine new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

Councilmember Rex Richardson moved to approve the motion, but said that he was open to hearing more about the topic in the future.

Before casting their votes, Mayor Robert Garcia weighed in, noting that lower case numbers should be the city’s main priority.

“The more cautious we can be, the better. Tom [Modica] needs to have the ability to enforce. Enforcement is important,” Garcia said, pointing out that case numbers are on the rise across the country. “I worry about where we’re going to be if we don’t continue to take this incredibly seriously.”

The vote passed 6-2 in favor of continued enforcement, with Councilmembers Price and Mungo voting against the item.

The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.