The La Cañada Flintridge City Council convened for a regular meeting on Tuesday and had a special guest to discuss local and national issues, most notably the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) joined the council to elucidate the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a new relief package passed by the House of Representatives last Friday but is currently stagnant in the Senate.
The $3 trillion HEROES Act would provide Americans with a second stimulus check as well as provide financial relief to businesses, and state and local governments affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have to think members of both parties recognize the difficulty their constituents are facing right now,” Schiff told councilmembers. “That would be really a disservice to our common constituents if we were to let cities go bankrupt or have to lay off their teachers or first responders. We have funding for the school districts also to help with those issues.”
The package would provide hazard pay for personnel on the front lines during the pandemic, such as hospital workers, bus drivers and grocery store employees. Schiff also noted that it would support homeowners, homeless and food benefits.
The congressman emphasized that cities like La Cañada Flintridge would benefit from the HEROES Act because it will provide funding for small cities and relief for local businesses.
“I know so many businesses in La Cañada Flintridge are suffering as they are all around the country, and they are in need of help to keep their doors open,” Schiff said.
HEROES would make “important fixes” further aiding small businesses following the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27. One of the amendments is the extension of Payment Protection Program from June 30 until Dec. 31. Schiff said he received feedback from restaurateurs and other small business owners about the existing law, which requires 75% of the loan going toward payroll for it to be forgiven. The new bill proposes the elimination of 75/25 rule.
“That doesn’t work for everyone’s business model,” he stated. “Some businesses are much more overhead than payroll intensive, and we want to make sure we can preserve small businesses.”
The proposed bill would also include a special provision ensuring $375 billion would go to cities, of which $37 billion would be made available to cities with fewer than 50,000 residents.
“We wanted to make sure cities of all sizes got help,” Schiff added. “It’s a mandatory pass-through by the state. We don’t want the state sitting on that money. We provided ample resources to the state, as well.”
The HEROES Act, which exceeds 1,800 pages, was condemned by the Senate, but Schiff is hopeful that it will spark a negotiation between both parties.
“That’s the way many of these bills have started out, only to get very broad bipartisan support at the end of the day,” Schiff addressed the LCF council. “The last CARES Act package, for example, was introduced by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and had no Democratic support. So you can equally say that was dead on arrival. But nonetheless, the parties used that bill as a focus of negotiation.
“I think it will take longer to get a yes than the prior packages. … There is a divergence between the parties on some of the issues.”
The city did its part to help local businesses by making no changes to the business license schedule and fees and waiving all late fees penalties through Oct. 1, giving owners an additional three months’ grace period.
Rise in Burglaries, Identity Theft/Fraud
An uptick in burglaries, identity theft and fraud was addressed by Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Todd Deeds, with four being reported in the month of April.
The “Stay at Home” ordinance has reduced the number of residential burglaries but places such as the post office, the 76 gas station and Flintridge Sacred Heart reported burglaries last month. Only four burglaries had been reported in the first three months of the year.
“We hired overtime for the early-morning shift for a couple of weeks,” said Deeds, who advised local businesses to keep their alarms on and have proper outside lighting. “Since we have hired the overtime, we haven’t had any burglaries or nighttime break-ins.”
The station scheduled to have more deputies patrolling the city during the Memorial Day weekend.
Identity theft/fraud crimes ballooned to 10 reported cases in April after not having any the previous month. Deeds stated many cases targeted the elderly and that it is a nationwide issue.
LCF Mayor Michael Davitt said he received several emails from victims and asked for City Manager Mark Alexander and the Sheriff’s Station to provide a presentation in the near future to educate residents on how to prevent identity theft/fraud.
Erosion of Flint Canyon Trail
City Division Manager Ann Wilson expressed concern over the downslope erosion of the Flint Canyon Trail to Schiff, asking if federal funding is a possibility.
“Erosion is pretty bad,” Wilson said. “The roots are bare and really all over. … The loss of the trail would break the circular trail, perhaps permanently.”
The construction cost to repair the trail is estimated at approximately $6 million, an amount the city cannot afford. State grant funds and the city’s general fund have spent nearly $1.2 million in an effort to alleviate the problem, but they were only temporary and minor fixes.
Davitt asked the congressman if federal assistance is being provided to trails despite the pandemic.
“I wouldn’t be surprised as we work on the budget for the future that we’re forced to consider what most urgently needs funding now,” Schiff said. “And now when we get on the other side of this pandemic, we will have incurred the debt of the obligations we undertake now. So there will be a scarcity of resources. I have to say, even in the flush times when we were passing large tax cuts in congress, we weren’t doing much to fund trail rehabilitation.
“The money available in the last fiscal year for trail rehabilitation federally was about $1.5 million for the entire country. That wouldn’t be enough to fix this one trail. … There’s just so little federal money available for this purpose, sadly.”
Schiff said he would continue to monitor the situation and do “everything” he can to find other sources of funding.
Possibility of Funding for More Sound Walls
The ongoing issue regarding the construction of sound walls was presented to Congressman Schiff, who expressed optimism to Director of Public Works Patrick DeChellis.
Federal highway funds can provide for the states so they can be made available through Caltrans, Schiff said. An infrastructure package is one way of stimulating the economy, improving “the quality of people’s lives who have to endure all freeway traffic noise.”
“It’s a multiplier for the economy when you get people out there doing big construction jobs,” he added. “You put money in the pocket of those doing work and they go out to spend it on food or buy things for their families. Construction and transportation structure tends to be a real wonderful way of jetting up the economy.”
A study in 2005 found that noise levels from the 210 freeway were above the Caltrans criteria and 23 sound wall segments needed to be built throughout the city.
Construction of the sound walls has been done in phases because of La Cañada Flintridge’s limited funding. The fourth phase is estimated to be done by the end of 2022, but the city still needs funding for 12 more sound walls.
“I think there is a good chance that as we work our way through this and emerge from this and try to get the economy moving again that we do a major infrastructure package, which would provide more money for agencies like Caltrans to be made available for things like sound walls,” Schiff assured.