The City Council has asked administrative staff to look into what it might take for Glendale to establish its own public health department.
The curiosity follows the mandate from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to shutter all outdoor in-person dining at restaurants, one of many restrictions re-imposed after record-shattering spikes in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. The council has not committed to following through on the bureaucratic expansion, but there remains the chance it finds value in federalizing itself from the county.
“Local rule,” coined Councilman Ara Najarian, who advanced the idea.
Outside of the county’s department, only two of the county’s 88 cities — Long Beach and Pasadena — have their own such entities, which generally make policy independent of the county but have largely been in line throughout the pandemic. The most glaring exception came last month, when Pasadena allowed its restaurants to continue “al fresco” service in defiance of the county.
“I received so many calls and so many texts about, ‘How come Pasadena can have restaurants open outside and we can’t do it?’” Mayor Vrej Agajanian said at Tuesday’s meeting.
More recent restrictions from Gov. Gavin Newsom on a plethora of counties that included L.A. ultimately trumped Pasadena’s decision, but not before this seed was planted. Long Beach, the second most populated city in the county, has more than double Glendale’s population, but Pasadena is at around two-thirds of Glendale’s residents.
Interim City Manager Roubik Golanian said his early research indicated that Pasadena’s health department has a budget of $15 million, mostly from its general fund.
“They do get some grants from the state, but we don’t know right now how much,” Golanian added. “They have a workforce in the department of nearly 100 employees. They’ve had their health department since their incorporation in the late 1800s.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian also floated the idea of collaborating with Pasadena in some capacity. Glendale and Pasadena (along with Burbank) already have regional partnerships that include management of the Bob Hope Airport and a tri-city brand identity initiative.
“We may actually end up having savings [comparatively] if we partner up with Pasadena or find a way to be under their jurisdiction,” Kassakhian said.
The council was careful to not voice the question out of general rebuke to coronavirus restrictions from county officials and emphasized the seriousness of the ongoing surge of cases.
As of press deadline this week, Glendale has had at least 6,563 total residents test positive for COVID-19, 895 of which have been diagnosed in the prior 14 days. On Oct. 31 — on the eve of when experts agree this surge began — the county announced that Glendale had had 4,657 positive tests among residents.
According to the city, there were four days in November with more than 100 new cases documented, far higher than at any other point since the pandemic was declared in March. The highest was 111 new cases on Nov. 19. As of press deadline, the city’s seven-day average of new daily new cases was 81.
At least 199 of Glendale’s residents have died from the disease, the second highest total for a city in L.A. County outside of Los Angeles itself. (El Monte is third, at 190 deaths among a population of more than 115,000.) A large number of Glendale’s fatalities came early on, as the disease spread through skilled nursing facilities.
Kassakhian mentioned during Tuesday’s meeting that the city harbors a large number of residents — older and with underlying health issues — at greater risk of complications from the disease.
“With our population, we do need to be very careful,” he said.
Unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose has had at least 354 cases, of which 53 were diagnosed in the past 14 days. Three residents there have died.
A countywide safer-at-home order went into place on Monday. The new order prohibits all public and private gatherings with people of another household, except for faith-based services and protests.
The county order also limits essential retail to 35% maximum occupancy and nonessential retail — such as indoor malls — to 20% maximum occupancy. Playgrounds, except for those at childcare and schools, and cardrooms were ordered closed.
Personal care services such as nail and hair salons were permitted by L.A. County, but Newsom indicated on Thursday that they too would soon close across the state. He announced that a statewide stay-at-home order would be implemented in regions whose ICU capacities dropped to 15% or less, projecting that most of the state, including the Southern California region, would reach that point within about a week.
Once in effect, the state order requires bars, wineries and personal care services to close for a minimum of three weeks, while retail stores are limited to 20% capacity. The order can only be lifted for the region after those three weeks, and only if its ICU capacity has risen above 15%.
As the county and state have renewed heavy restrictions on eateries and retailers, the council may be forced to again explore some of the policies it imposed earlier in the year. Councilman Dan Brotman reminded everyone that businesses are expected to pay a chunk of their back-rent that was deferred during an eviction moratorium by the start of the New Year.
“I think we need to revisit that question,” he said, “and do what we can right now to give a little bit more window for the small businesses that have these back rents that are just not going to be able to make those payments on Jan. 1st.”
— Christian Leonard contributed to this report.