Newport Beach City Council officially terminates pandemic-related local emergency

Marcos Escutia, of Costa Mesa, wears a unique face mask., May 7, 2020.
Marcos Escutia, of Costa Mesa, wears a unique face mask at the Newport Pier in Newport Beach on Thursday, May 7, 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

It’s official! The Newport Beach City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to terminate its pandemic-related local emergency, ahead of state action.

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

Following council action, it was officially terminated on 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 the local state of emergency.

“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.”

A woman runs on the sand as others take in the sights on the beach.
A woman runs on the sand as others take in the sights on the beach next to the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach on Wednesday, May 6, 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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

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

“A lot of other communities couldn’t say the same thing. So, 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,” said O’Neill. “There is a lot to be said about the way that things worked out for our city. There are obviously ways to improve and I do hope that none of us up here have to experience that again in our lifetimes, let alone from the dais.”

O’Neill thanked city staff for their efforts and added that he felt that governments should give up their declared states of emergency when they could no longer justify keeping them in place.

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

Beach goers practice social distancing while sunbathing near the Newport Pier.
Beach goers practice social distancing while sunbathing near the Newport Pier in Newport Beach on Saturday, May 23, 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon said the past year was an interesting case study in the powers that be at the state, county and city level, joking that someone might write a legal book on how the state of California responded to the pandemic.

Residents raised concerns about whether or not 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 the city has submitted all potential reimbursements through Tuesday and that it had received the first installment of the American Recovery Rescue Plan Act.

Leung said that 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.

Mayor Brad Avery said the arrival of the pandemic brought about “real existential questions” at the country, county and community level. Avery said that he was amazed at how the county operated and thankful for how Newport Beach fared.

“This is our Independence Day,” said Councilwoman Diane Dixon.

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