The Imperial Beach City Council took some important decisions on funding local organizations and had a long discussion on mandatory vaccine for employees during its Nov. 3 meeting. The council met in person in the chambers without public attending. The meeting was live-streamed as in the past.

The city has received $6,564,231 million from the federal government in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for COVID Relief for a number of purposes: public health, negative economic impacts, public sector, renew loss premium pay for essential workers, for investments in sewer and water, and broadband infrastructure.

The guiding principles established by the council for the funds are to avoid recurring expenses, provide long term benefits, invest in critical infrastructure and facilities, enhance financial stability and cover temporary shortfalls.

The mitigation plan budget shown had the following estimated costs: essential personnel cost offset related to COVID $320,480 (stipends ranged from $450 to $5,000 per employee) ; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) improvements $150,000 at City Hall and Community Room; improvements to city owned facility at 170 Palm Avenue $ 2,681,622; Business and Household Assistance Grants and Loans $1,066,310; Placement of Community Information Signs at Veteran’s Park and Centennial Triangle $130,000; Repairs to the Imperial Beach multi-use field $752,413; Necessary infrastructure Repairs and Improvements $400,000; Recapture of Impacted Services and Expenses $269,690 (examples include purchase of maintenance utility vehicles, complete City Users Fee study and Local Coastal Plan,) ; Improvements to Senior Citizens Center and Programs $200,000 (improvements include better activities equipment and kitchens facilities); Improvements to the Imperial Beach Sports Park $593,698 (staff is looking for funding alternatives since estimated cost is $2 million.) Some of the improvements include the lobby and kitchen area, installation of wooden floors, installation of multi-use tennis/pickleball court, skatepark improvements and outdoor area. The former Adult Education Center will be updated and a community center created. The center is envisioned to be, in addition to offering recreational activities, a one stop shop for social services, outreach, a variety of programs and activities, space to be used by non-profits, conferences, education and more. The Business and Household Assistance will provide funding for non-profit agencies with capacity and structure to help businesses and households impacted by COVID. Examples of this type of assistance can be: rent, utilities, ADA requirements by local businesses, and home weatherization for seniors.

Some local organizations applied to receive funding for their programs and three were chosen and identified by the city council. I Love to Glean’s South County Hub applied to receive $48,990. The funding will be on a reimbursement basis upon demonstration that the program benefited the residents. The money will pay for three months of part-time labor, food purchases, warehousing, and business automation with an emphasis on Imperial Beach.

SunCoast Market Co-Op applied for $500,000 to be used for design and construction of a business space in Imperial Beach, provide quarterly food distribution, provide 40 new jobs, mitigate lost opportunities due to COVID and technical business planning. The IB Neighborhood Center applied for $76,600 in Pantry Improvements with the goal to lessen food insecurity and provide daily necessities to IB residents impacted by COVID.

During the 60 public comments many spoke in favor of giving funds to SunCoast Market, I Love to Glean and IB Neighborhood Center. During council discussion Mayor Pro Tem Ed Spriggs said he was not sure how SunCoast will be able to provide reimbursement based on its business model. Kim Frink of SunCoast Co-Op pointed out, “It’s challenging for a food co-op to get credit. Banks want to hold one person responsible but when you have 1,000, it’s challenging.” City Manger Andy Hall suggested funds be given out in tranches, and the city can look at this funding as a redevelopment agency project. If the business does not succeed, Imperial Beach will be left with an improved building. Regarding I Love to Glean there was a question by Mayor Pro Tem Spriggs as to how the organization profits Imperial Beach residents since the warehouse will not be located in the city. Karen Clay of I Love to Glean responded that she has looked in Imperial Beach but was not able to find a warehouse in the city. On the same topic, Councilmember Jack Fisher said, “I’d love to be part of something that helps all of South County.” He also suggested renaming the 170 Palm Avenue building from Parks and Recreation by adding Community Services to the name, and possibly even renaming the building after a community member or even have community members’ names on tiles.

Councilmember Paloma Aguirre wanted to make sure that the language for Business and Household Assistance Grants and Loans funding reflected being able help those who don’t qualify for rent relief and utility relief, so people don’t lose their homes. She also wanted to add language that does not encourage evictions from landlords. The funding projects presented were approved unanimously by the council.

A vaccination requirement for city employees was discussed. During the Sept. 15 city council meeting it was decided to give employees more time to get vaccinated and answer the survey. Vaccination rates for city employees are: Administration 97.14%, Maintenance and Operations 72.09 %, Public Safety (not including Sheriff’s Department) 51.86% and Parks and Rec. 100 %.

Four options were presented once again to the council. In Option 3 a new point was added: staff training can be done to conduct testing onsite and reduce costs. Although the city is within its right to require vaccination against COVID, it was pointed out that OSHA and Cal OSHA are supposed to issue guidelines for vaccinations requirements - which the city would have to follow.

During public comment two firefighters spoke against a vaccination mandate by the city, citing issues including the right to choose.

Spriggs said he believes that public safety is number one in the city. “There’s a problem when people are not vaccinated and interact with the public…for me the mandate is sensible,” he said. Spriggs also asked staff about vacancies in public safety and what would happen if employees quit because of a mandate. There are currently three vacancies in the fire department. “I see the firefighters’ position, I disagree from the standpoint of protecting citizens, and we need to make sure we have enough staff on hand,” he said.

City Manager Andy Hall pointed out that, “there are no personal freedoms here… We have rules for our employees…we’re still the employer.” Fisher said that while for other vaccines, everyone received them when they were young, in this case there is a choice now that people are adults. “I don’t feel we have to impose it on people,” he said.

Aguirre prefaced her comments with her gratitude to the first responders especially during the pandemic, but she does not agree with them not getting vaccinated. “Vaccinations are effective…we’re tasked with protecting public health,” she said. Aguirre brought up the example of a senior citizen that after contact with an unvaccinated firefighter who has COVID, could get the disease and die. “Where does freedom end and where does our task to protect the public heath begin?” she asked. Aguirre asked if testing could be increased twice a week. Assistant City Manager Erika Cortez Martinez said it is possible.

Mayor Serge Dedina expressed his opinion by saying, “It’s an oxymoron to be in public safety and not be vaccinated.” He discussed the risks of someone quitting their well paid job to avoid a vaccination. “What would happen to our city if a lifeguard gave CPR and that person got COVD and died? That’s a $20 M lawsuit…we hired them to serve the public, and residents expect the highest level of service,” he said.

Spriggs said the city does not have the cushion other municipalities have with a larger number of firefighters. “We don’t have the cushion…we’re being blackmailed by a few people,” he said.

Fisher made a motion to continue in the current path and waiting another 30 days. Councilmember Matthew Leyba -Gonzalez seconded the motion. Spriggs asked if a contingency plan to staff positions that could lost in the event of a vaccination requirement could be added to the motion.

The motion was carried 4 to 1 with Dedina voting no.

In other business:

Imperial Beach City Council policies were updated. Some of the changes include start time of meetings to go back to 6 p.m. in January, and placements of items on the agenda.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city of Imperial Beach and the Imperial Beach Firefighters Association Local 4692, approving the city’s fiscal year 2021-2023 salary schedule, personnel changes and amending the city’s personnel rules was approved. The MOU items from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2023 are: a 3 % cost of living adjustment effective July 2, 2021, a 3% cost of living adjustment effective July 1, 2022, a contract amendment with CalPERS on cost of living sharing of 1% for Classic Tier 1 Fire Employees effective July 1, 2022.

The next city council meeting will be held Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. via livestream. For more information log on www.imperialbeachca.gov

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