WeHo City Looks Back at Coronavirus Response One Year After Declaring Local Emergency

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City of West Hollywood - Photo by Paulo Murillo for WEHO TIMES

It’s been a year since the City of West Hollywood declared a local emergency on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration enhanced the City’s ability to access emergency resources at the state and federal level to assist with its response. The city also closed in-person services for all public facilities on March 18, 2020 and the City transitioned to a largely virtually connected work environment to seamlessly serve community members to safeguard health and safety of the community.

“It’s been a year like no other. As we look back on the past year of tackling challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take time to remember those who have suffered and those we’ve lost. I’d like to extend a heartfelt thanks to our first responders and to our frontline and essential workers for their service to our community,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath. “I also want to recognize our own City staff who immediately transitioned to a mostly work-from-home environment and, with innovation and creativity, have continued to provide the community with excellent service while facing the risk of COVID-19 in their own homes and families. West Hollywood is a resilient community and, together, we will thrive as we create our new normal.”

In the first days of the declared local emergency in March 2020, the City of West Hollywood activated emergency operations plans to seamlessly serve the community. At the outset of frequently changing information and brewing public concern, the City needed to quickly reach as many people as possible and in every outlet available at the City’s disposal, including providing educational materials in three major languages — English, Russian, and Spanish — spoken in the City.

The City’s immediate goals included:

  • Directing the public to one central spot for online information in creating www.weho.org/coronavirus;
  • Distributing printed advisory materials by mail to every household;
  • Launching phone-based audio, text, and email alerts as information rapidly changed;
  • Installing electronic variable message boards at major entry points to the City;
  • Activating digital ads on bus shelters and electronic billboards throughout the City;
  • Frequent posting of online social media information, in both conventional posts and video updates; and
  • Near-daily news releases on often-changing ordinances, health directives, and information for businesses and residents.

To communicate urgently, the City immediately placed message boards, billboard content, and advisory posters on major City thoroughfares to direct community members to coronavirus resource information in a website area at www.weho.org/coronavirus. This website area continues to be updated with the latest information and resources. Since March 2020, the City’s Communications Department has issued more than 300 press releases, email alerts, and informational videos posted to social media and streaming platforms.

The City created a series of ‘Cover That Face/Maintain Your Space’ Public Service Announcements, lamppost banners, community median signage, and broadcast PSAs, as well as a community engagement kit, posted atwww.weho.org/coverthatface. To reach “The Invincibles,” a population of 18- to 29-year-olds, the City also launched a social media-based video series of 15-second videos called “Masks Are … ” with each video carrying the blunt message: “Wear a F*****g Mask!” The City has produced a variety of updates and video public service announcements for WeHoTV digital and Spectrum CableTV channels and has deployed more than 5,500 informational posts across City social media platforms @WeHoCity.

The City of West Hollywood was recognized with the Explorer Award by the Mobility 4 Public Safety organization for ‘Most Progressive Strategic Planning’ for efforts to develop an Emergency Services Mobility Communications Plan to define the goals, expectations, and standard operating procedures for collaborating with their Emergency Services partners and neighboring jurisdictions to guide the adoption of mobile communications in order for various agencies and jurisdictions to seamlessly communicate with each other and City staff.

Just after the City’s declaration of local emergency, multiple City of West Hollywood functions moved immediately to digital tools, including:

  • Facilities Division contracts;
  • City Clerk public records;
  • Submission of claims;
  • Parking Services Division loading zone requests, parking credits, and moving permits;
  • Current and Historic Preservation Planning Division general zoning information and permit request;
  • Building & Safety Division Plan Review projects;
  • Urban Design & Architecture Studio development plan concept reviews;
  • Engineering Division encroachment permits and Certificates of Occupancy; and
  • Online Residential Preferential Parking Permit applications and visitor permits using a Permit-by-Plate online portal in lieu of paper hangtags.

Members of the community continue reaching out to the City for rental assistance. Since March 16, 2020, the City’s social services partners have received 1,792 requests and have approved 1,630 grants in the amount of $1,373,196.02 (not all requests have been approved due to applicants not residing in West Hollywood, and applications still being reviewed and processed). Through coordination with Bet Tzedek, the City has provided mediation services and initiated an eviction defense program for renters. There have been 65 cases since the program’s inception.

The City’s Rent Stabilization and Housing Division staff has responded to more than 3,000 incoming inquiries, the majority of which regarded the City’s temporary residential eviction moratorium. Staff continues to provide personalized housing counseling and guidance for utilizing the City’s and the State’s moratorium protections and monitor conflictive landlord/tenant interactions to ensure adherence with the law.

The City’s Social Services Division staff worked to transition on-site meal programs to home-delivered service, creatively leveraging the City’s transit providers to deliver meals to those most vulnerable to coronavirus infection. From April 2020 through January 2021, Project Angel Food and the Jewish Family Services (JFS) Senior Nutrition program have, combined, with the help of the City’s transportation providers delivered more than 60,000 meals to West Hollywood community members. JFS’s SOVA program has also delivered 3,542 packaged grocery orders. Seeds of Hope provided fresh produce to approximately 45 people per week in June and, in July, began monthly produce delivery to 383 people.

The Social Services Division worked with City transit provider, as well, to launch a free Temporary Grocery Delivery program for vulnerable residents (age 62 and older and/or living with a disability). This program serves those who are able to place online orders to West Hollywood grocers (Gelson’s, Pavilions, and Sprouts), but do not want to go in-person to these stores due to health and safety concerns. To participate, residents must be enrolled in the City’s on-call transportation program. The Temporary Grocery Delivery program has made 30 deliveries since the program launched in early May 2020.

In sum, staff members from the Social Services Division and Strategic Initiatives Division have responded to approximately 200 inquires per month, primarily from people seeking assistance with transportation, food resources, and rental assistance. Frequently, these calls are of considerable duration, as constituents may present with a range of issues to be addressed.

The City of West Hollywood took extensive steps to support businesses and workers during this unprecedented time. Early in the declaration of local emergency the West Hollywood City Council approved a temporary moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants whose income has been impacted by COVID-19. The City created a Toolkit for small businesses affected by COVID-19, which is available at www.weho.org/business.

The City’s Recreation Services Division, in late spring 2020, transitioned to 100-percent virtual programming, including the award-winning #WeRecAtHome virtual recreation center. Recreation has currently transitioned the City’s Rec Reader into a virtual web-based publication and has been offering community members a myriad of ways to stay involved in recreational programming at www.weho.org/recreation.

As the City looks toward the future and plans next steps of responding and rebuilding to get back to normal, the City is developing a new round of PSAs to encourage continued adherence to health and safety guidelines, as well as messages to encourage vaccinations.

Additional information about the City of West Hollywood’s virtual transition and resources can be found at www.weho.org/coronavirus.

The City of West Hollywood has assembled a West Hollywood COVID-19 Retrospective Report available for viewing and download (239-page PDF file): https://weho.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=16&clip_id=3594&meta_id=199851.

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