Murrieta City Council reports on city coronavirus response through May 5

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Murrieta City Council provided a lengthy COVID-19 virus update to the general public during a special called meeting May 5, at 1 p.m. in lieu of the regular meeting that same evening.

Each councilmember, led by Mayor Gene Wunderlich, gave reports on the different aspects of COVID-19 activities that have and are taking place in the city.

Wunderlich began with a review of the federal government’s declaration of the COVID-19 outbreak in the nation that has come into the city, who brought the council up to date on the latest federal legislation passed in respect to the raging coronavirus pandemic.

He reviewed the four major pieces of legislation passed by the government to help the people and businesses across the country including the massive $2.5 trillion economic relief package. Wunderlich said the $150 billion set aside for state and local government in the act, however, “does not address the increase of spending or the unavoidable shortfall of revenues faced by many cities.”

He said that relief is only set aside for cities with over 500,000 population and only 36 cities in the nation fall under that category.

“Murrieta is not one of them,” Wunderlich said.

He concluded that the city as of May 5 has already spent $167,000 on COVID response, excluding personal costs since the stay at home order was made in March. He said the federal treasury may not see those things as a “necessary expenditure” worthy of compensation.

Wunderlich said the city has contacted Rep. Ken Calvert to co-sponsor House Resolution 6467, the Coronavirus Community Relief Act, and Sens. Diane Fenstein and Kamala Harris to co-sponsor companion legislation “to provide proportional direct and flexible relief for cities who have populations of less than 500,000.”

He said similar requests for extra funding for the city’s coronavirus revenue shortfalls has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

He also encouraged city residents to be sure to send in their census information so the city can receive more funding benefits for the increase of residents.

He turned a transportation update over to Mayor Pro Tem Scott Vinton who said the city’s $3.4 million slurry seal program is now 80% complete despite early spring rains and the coronavirus stay at home order. He showed a map of the many streets and parking lots that have already been covered with slurry and sealed at an expenditure of $2,269,564. He said on the horizon was the $47 million Keller Road intersection that will improve access to the Loma Linda University and Kaiser medical offices. The city has requested a $25 million BUILD grant to help this project get underway.

Councilmember Jonathan Ingram presented an update on the city’s police department facing the coronavirus outbreak problems. He said the Police department has been working together to keep their focus on the residents’ law enforcement needs and have added 11 more dispatchers to join with the neighboring city of Menifee’s new police departments dispatch needs after July 1 when they take over from the sheriff’s department. He said the police crime statistics have actually decreased slightly since the coronavirus stay at home order was issued. Ingram lauded the police department’s many community involvement activities they have engaged in to assure the public they are there to protect them during the pandemic.

According to councilmember Kelly Seyarto, the city’s fire department took action to keep their staff and the public safe by suspending a number of community programs that brought larger numbers of people and closed the fire stations to the public. But business inspections continued. They updated all their personal protective equipment and created new safety procedures specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seyarto said the department found its response times improved because of less traffic on the roads, but their call volume increased with people fearing they might have the disease and because of that had the dispatchers question the caller more about their symptoms. Two of the department’s training rooms were converted into an active Emergency Operations Center for the duration of the crisis.

Councilmember Christi White gave an update on the city’s parks, facilities, programs, the library and city hall. She said by public health order all the parks playing fields, restrooms and other facilities were closed to public use. But, the trails, bike paths, bridle trails and tennis courts remained open to the public with social distancing required. She said plans have already been made when the coronavirus shut down ends, including the opening of a remote control race track at Mapleton Park and a senior oriented outdoor recreation area at B Street Station.

She cited a four-times increase in meal distribution since the pandemic stay at home order began. Fifty new older adults were added to the food distribution list since the last week in April, thanks to the opening of two additional food distribution locations. A day camp was established for five staff member’s children. The Youth Arts Program was transitioned to Instagram where the art is displayed. The library’s Online Story Books and ZIP Books continued and a 3D printing of ear plugs was done as a public service. The City Hall painting program continues with virtual meetings and development plan drops and permit issuance.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.