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

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors voted today to approve formation of a task force that will 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.

“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.”

Board Chairman Manuel 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 turn the corner,” Perez said, suggesting that the county be prepared to assist in supplying gloves, masks and other gear to outlets as they open their doors under guidelines listed in President Trump’s multi-phase “Opening Up America Again” plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The shape and structure of the proposed task force will be ironed out by the Executive Office, and the goal is for the group’s mission to be fulfilled within 18 months of its inception.

On Friday, county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser acknowledged that conditions countywide are gradually improving, and the area could soon fall into Phase One of the president’s “gating criteria,” permitting groups of 10 or less to socialize with appropriate precautionary actions and providing ways for employers to bring workers back on the job
incrementally, with safeguards in place.

During the recession of 2008-09, the board implemented various changes to reduce costs and stimulate business activity, including across-the-board salary cuts in county government and 50% reductions in development impact fees, which commercial and residential developers pay as part of the permitting process.