By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
April 17, 2020 (El Cajon) -- The El Cajon City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to set forth a major million-dollar effort to support local residents, businesses, and the homeless during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis, extending after the state declares the emergency over.
The City Council approved a dozen programs to help the community including:
- Providing residents assistance with utility bills and rent
- Delaying sewer bills through June and eliminating any late sewer fees in 2020
- Assisting seniors to access groceries
- Promoting and financially supporting existing food distribution throughout the community
- Setting up a business resource website and reaching out to businesses
- Waiving late business license renewal penalties
- No longer enforcing banner and temporary use regulations at business sites
- Providing additional homeless shelter opportunities, providing transportation to the homeless to access regional resources
- Providing free on-line recreation classes, discounted structured recreation classes after the emergency declaration has been terminated.
In addition, the City Council adopted a resolution strongly recommending that owners of rental properties in the City to refrain from raising rent for a 60-day period beginning Apr. 15.
Many of the programs will be administered by local agencies which already have had experience in providing community services.
For El Cajon’s homeless residents, the city’s “homeless response team” will be seeking to provide additional shelter space and motel vouchers and a safe parking program, transportation to regional homeless services, and provide rapid rehousing and rental assistance. As of Monday, the County indicates 13 homeles people countywide hae tested positive for COVID-19, out of 2,000 cases in San Diego County.
According to the County, as of Monday 113 cases had been confirmed in El Cajon, however those include unincorporated areas of El Cajon such as Crest and Rancho San DIeog as well as cases in the city limits. According to Heartland Fire & Rescue Chief Steve Swaney, a city press release states that about half of El Cajon's cases are from one skilled nursing faciity.
A web page with COVID-19 information related to the City of El Cajon is available for review.
Tuesday’s Council meeting was the third which was conducted via internet webcast. Mayor Bill Wells, City Manager Graham Mitchell, City Attorney Morgan Foley, and City Clerk Angela Cortez were present in the Council chamber. Deputy Mayor Phil Ortiz, as well as Councilmen Steve Goble, Gary Kendrick and Bob McClellan participated via video and phone hookup.
Before the vote, Mitchell outlined the major considerations of the initiative which included the short- and long-term impact the pandemic would have on neighborhoods and on “essential” and “non-essential” local and national businesses.
“We know that a lot of our residents are experiencing unemployment or underemployment. They are not getting the hours they are used to have. So that’s going to have an impact on the ability to generate sales,” he said.
Mitchell also for the first time directly mentioned by name what might be the future viability of the largest mall in El Cajon, Parkway Plaza. The regional shopping mall is a large source of sales tax revenue to the city.
“We worry about the viability of Parkway Plaza. We already know there [were] some structural shifts occurring in the marketplace before this occurred. We know a lot of big box stores are closing down and consolidating. This will probably expedite some of those movements,” he said.
The longer the declaration of emergency stays in place, “the more structural changes will happen,” Mitchell continued.
The COVID-19 response initiative will be funded with City of El Cajon General Fund revenues and with money from the federal government CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) Funding Act. Mitchell said that the city aims to limit overhead costs to administer the initiative to 10 percent.
With the major COVID-19 response and revenues income being stymied with decreased transient occupancy taxes, property, and sales tax revenues coming into city coffers, the city will be forced to make some forthcoming budget cuts.
Despite the fiscal concerns, the city intends to buckle down to maintain, as best as possible, the quality of life for El Cajon residents. “With the Council’s feedback, city staff will immediately begin to implement programs to help our residents and businesses,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell conceded, “We don’t have as many resources to help businesses because we can’t use CARES funds for those kinds of things, but we think we can become this repository of business resources of information coming from the state and the federal government and non-profits. We think we can be this place to provide this information on a website.”
Councilman and Deputy Mayor Phil Ortiz said to ECM, “We have been responsible with our budget and because of that, we have a savings account for this exact reason. When crisis happens, we don’t need to panic or cut services. We can go a step further and respond directly to help residents with real dollars and tangible services. Running the city efficiently and saving money is literally paying off in this time of great need. Not many cities can do what we’ve done,” he said.
“I am proud that the council approved this historic action. I’m seeing people in my district being pushed into poverty, food insecure, loss of housing and the Council and city staff listened and swiftly acted. My biggest stipulation was that the money is not used for administrative purposes. I want as much money and services to go directly to our residents as possible,” Ortiz continued.
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