Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The Arcata City Council renewed its declaration of emergency regarding the Coronavirus pandemic Monday afternoon, something it must do every two weeks as long as the crisis continues. It also heard a report from City Manager Karen Diemer on crisis-related actions the city is taking. Meanwhile, county officials reported Humboldt's count of COVID-19 patients holding at 50 for the sixth straight day.
The council was also told of a Coronavirus initiatives in the planning stage. One is the waiver of penalties and interest charges on Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT, a 10 percent bed tax) on stays at Arcata lodging facilities. Diemer said local motels had called to report difficulty paying their TOT due to a drop in guests.
All but one unnamed motel has shown good compliance with payments, so council members seemed willing to work with them on temporary relief from the financial obligation. Finance Director Ondrea Starzhevskiy may be tasked to work with motels on developing payment plans to ensure eventual collection of revenues.
While parking enforcement has been relaxed in Arcata, the council moved to ease parking requirements for the downtown Open Door Clinic, located on 10th Street. Clinic workers will get day passes so that they needn't decontaminate, change their PPE and then go back to work just to move their car.
The city's pursuit of emergency sheltering options has borne fruit, with five qualifying individuals housed in local motels and openings for five more. Priority is given to those who meet criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for those especially vulnerable to the consequences of COVID-19: being age 65 or older and having pre-existing conditions,
The housing is being provided with support from Arcata House Partnership (AHP). Arcata Police transported the individuals to their rooms.
Sheltering locations in city-owned parking lots at Seventh and G streets and near the Intermodal Transit Facility are close to operational, with porta-potties delivered and cots arranged. Tents have already sprung up at the Seventh and G lot, and the city is looking for funding to move people in.
The city's Business Resilience Emergency Loan Program (BRELP) has been utilized by Arcata businesses. Some 26 inquiries have been received, resulting in 18 applications, 13 of which are complete and have been submitted to the Arcata Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). Of the $250,000 available from the city's loan fund, some $212,000 has been requested. Diemer said $100,000 in funding was being released today. She said program participants could repay their BRELP loans via a separate SBA loan, thus replenishing the fund.
Mayor Michael Winkler advocated for mandatory use of face masks in public places where food is sold. "What's going to happen is, if somebody coughs in one of those situations, the food could be contaminated," Winkler said, without citing any evidence of groceries being a disease vector in the community. "And that could be a conduit for somebody getting infected."
Diemer said she has visited multiple retail businesses, including grocery and hardware stores, and "saw very good compliance" with masking recommendations, in the 85 to 90 percent range.
Other councilmembers weren't willing to get ahead of any available medical guidance on masking. "That needs to come from the health officer directly," said Councilmember Sofia Periera. She wanted the idea considered apart from the emergency declaration's renewal so as not to complicate or delay the motion's passage.
Councilmember Paul Pitino was apparently swayed, withdrawing his support for the mask measure's inclusion in the motion, which then passed on unanimous vote of the four-person council.
Regarding a heightened mask requirement, Councilmember Brett Watson supported an advisory statement encouraging masking, but said enforcement of a grocery store requirement could be difficult. Pereira again said any requirement should be crafted "in close consultation with the health officer."
Pitino advocated requiring use of a mask in all businesses, but also supported getting the health officer's advice. So, at the council's direction, staff will ask county Health Officer Teresa Frankovich whether mask requirements would be useful in retail settings.
Diemer said city staff has been supplied with masks, and will wear them to help model proper precautions against Coronavirus transmission.
Meanwhile, the city has deployed its programmable portable sign to promote proper social distancing in public places. Also, bulk waste pickup has been canceled in the Recology service area.
The City Council, like other bodies which have switched to online gatherings, is becoming comfortable with its new format, with exceptions. Pitino was crisply attired in formal shirt and tie, while Periera participated from her car during a break from work, the portrait mode additionally offering an impressive view of her vehicle's headliner.
However, Winkler was poorly framed at the bottom of the screen, lower portions of his face covered by the agenda item title bar. Watson was depicted only by a slide bearing his name. And despite a caution to silence devices, someone's phone clangorously and repeatedly rang during a staff report by Diemer, interrupting her address to the council.