Supervisors OK task force to tackle region’s post-virus economic recovery

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The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to approve formation of a task force that would team Riverside County agencies and private sector entities to identify policies and measures that can lift the region out of the fiscal doldrums as the coronavirus emergency comes to an end during its meeting Tuesday, April 21.

“We need voices and decisions that can move quickly,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said before casting his vote with the rest of the board to support creation of the Economic Recovery Task Force. “We’re going to go into a time we potentially have never seen. Time is not on the side of businesses that have been closed. We need proactive and safe policies.”

Perez and Supervisor Karen Spiegel introduced the task force concept, citing the need to explore measures and actions that will “put our workforce back to work,” according to documents posted to the board’s agenda.

“We need to be prepared as we come out of this,” Spiegel said. “It won’t happen overnight … but our business community is extremely important.”

The plan does not specify any clear steps to promote recovery, leaving those to whichever county staff members, merchants, entrepreneurs and others are situated on the task force.

An Economic Development Agency representative told the board that the task force will take the lead in outlining a “safe reopening” of economic sectors in the post-COVID-19 world, utilizing input from one to three business associations or groups in each of the five supervisorial districts.

“Business as usual will no longer be business as usual once we turnthe corner,” Perez said, suggesting that the county be prepared to assist in supplying gloves, masks and other gear to outlets as they open their doorsunder guidelines listed in President Donald Trump’s multiphase “Opening Up AmericaAgain” plan.

Supervisor Jeff Hewitt expressed a desire for “mom and popbusinesses” that comprise more than half the revenue-generating sources in thenational economy to be represented on the task force.

“They have been hit the hardest by this, and they don’t have accessto all the resources,” Hewitt said. “They’re an important part of oureconomy.”

The board said that county CEO George Johnson has already convened a“red team” of agency heads and others to address challenges directly tied tothe coronavirus shutdowns.

Jeffries fretted that some of the county’s outlays may proveunmanageable because of revenue shortfalls. He pointed specifically to the full opening of the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio and the Medical OfficeBuilding situated on the campus of the Riverside University Medical Center inMoreno Valley.

The supervisor said immediate accommodations are needed to support bigrevenue-makers like commercial developers.

“We cannot afford six months to five years to process a commercialdeveloper’s application to build properties,” he said.

The shape and structure of the proposed task force will be ironed outby the county’s executive office, and the goal is for the group’s mission to befulfilled within 18 months of its inception.

On Friday, April 17, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county public health officer, acknowledged that conditions countywide are gradually improving, and the areacould soon fall into Phase One of the president’s “gating criteria,”permitting groups of 10 or less to socialize with appropriate precautionaryactions and providing ways for employers to bring workers back on the jobincrementally with safeguards in place.

During the recession of 2008-2009, the board implemented various changesto reduce costs and stimulate business activity, including across-the-boardsalary cuts in county government and 50% reductions in development impact fees,which commercial and residential developers pay as part of the permittingprocess.