Several mayors want their own public health agencies

As tears flow from her eyes, Filomena Hernandez says, "I know this pandemic is serious. It’s very serious. But it has to be dealt with differently."

Sitting next to her in an empty Steve’s BBQ Steve and son Josh. They own the restaurant located on the Greenleaf Promenade.

What she was feeling was anger, frustration... and uncertainty. Like many restaurants Steve’s Barbeque has been hit so hard they’ve had to furlough workers including her own daughter and brother.

“It was heartbreaking,” she says.

It’s that pain that’s being heard by Mayor Joe Vinatieri, of Whittier, who says the city is thinking about starting its own health department.

Says the mayor, “Well, we’re looking at that.”

They’re also looking at an option to have a more regional public health department with like-minded cities.

The Mayor of Lancaster Rex Parris says, "We have no confidence in LA County public health anymore."

The Mayor of Beverly Hills is Lester Friedman. When it comes to the approach by LA County Public Health, he says, “I don’t think that one size fits all. I don’t think that the incidents of the disease can be traced to many of the communities.”

There are 88 cities in Los Angeles County. Pasadena and Long Beach have their own public health departments.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says, "In a smaller jurisdiction it may be easier to get to every single restaurant."

Ferrer has said the county is large and cities like Pasadena and Long Beach that have smaller jurisdictions and their own public health departments might be able to handle their local needs better.

That’s not to say the county's cities should have their own public health departments, but the mayors we talked with are thinking that.

Take Lancaster, where Mayor Rex Perris, says the surge is increasing so much that “It a very frightening situation. The hospital has advised us that soon they are going to have to do overflow at the fairgrounds”

In Beverly Hills, Mayor Friedman says they’re not seeing COVID-19 spread because of restaurant transmissions. Friedman says, “I think the premise is that the decisions that were made for the entire county may not be the best decision for each of the cities and I think that we need to have an independent voice.”

The Mayor of Whittier is saying the same thing and adds, “We’ve just had a major thing happen to our restaurants here and that’s the closure order by the LA County Department of Public Health. For us, I forget how many restaurants, but we figure it’s almost 1,500 to 2,000 employees who are out on the street before Christmas and that’s a major major heartache.”

Filomena Hernandez at Steve’s Barbeque knows all about that. She says, “I’m upset. I’m very upset.”

It is possible to create separate public health departments, but by all accounts, it's expensive and time consuming. In Pasadena, their public health department budget is $15.6 million a year. They have the equivalent of 98 full-time staffers. It’s possible because it is a smaller community that Whittier might only need half of that. That’s $8 million and dozens of workers.

So, it is expensive. And, if the city started to create such a department today it’s believed it would take 12 to 18 months to complete. By then, the hope is COVID-19 will be history.

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