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Newport Beach terminates COVID-19 local emergency: ‘This is our Independence Day’

A man wears a black face mask that says "6 feet" on it.
Marcos Escutia of Costa Mesa wears a unique face mask at the pier in Newport Beach in May 2020 during the height of the pandemic.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

The Newport Beach City Council unanimously voted this week to terminate its pandemic-related local emergency, ahead of state action.

The city initially declared its local emergency status on March 15, 2020, a declaration granting Newport Beach access to state and federal resources. Councilman Will O’Neill requested earlier this month for staff to bring back an item that would allow the city to dissolve its local emergency.

The order was officially terminated Tuesday night after nearly 16 months. With it went emergency powers granted to City Manager Grace Leung and emergency ordinances on outdoor dining — which city officials extended through early September — and holds on short-term lodging.

That same day, the Orange County Board of Supervisors moved to maintain a countywide state of emergency.

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“I’ve been looking forward to getting to the point that we could even have this conversation, let alone pass it, for over a year now,” said O’Neill, who was serving as mayor at the start of the pandemic. “We’ve seen some substantial ups and we’ve seen some substantial downs, and we have fortunately seen a decrease [of COVID-19 cases] in the last couple of months that, honestly, it’s amazing for so many reasons.”

O’Neill said that Newport Beach should have been hit a lot harder because of its aging population, but it wasn’t — at least in part because many residents are either retired or are able to work from home.

Census data from 2019 indicate that at least 23.1% of the city’s population is over 65. About 17.2% are under the age of 18 and 3.9% under 5.

“This is a fortunate community, and we need to recognize there are demographic reasons for the ability for us to weather this and to come out OK,” O’Neill said. “I do hope that none of us up here have to experience that again in our lifetimes.”

Councilman Noah Blom said that even being able to talk about the termination of the local emergency was one of the most exciting issues since his appointment to the council in December.

“This is our Independence Day,” Councilwoman Diane Dixon said in summing up the relief to be free from the emergency order.

Residents raised concerns about whether the termination of the local emergency would limit Newport Beach’s access to additional funds to make up for what was expended by the city in response to the pandemic. Leung said that the city had submitted all potential reimbursements through Tuesday and that it had received the first installment of the American Recovery Rescue Plan Act.

If there are additional expenses, such as vaccination clinics, after the termination of the local emergency, it is possible the city will not be reimbursed for those, she said.

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Nguyen writes for Times Community News.


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