‘More Than a Recession’

The Damn Virus: Local governments await budget slaughter; supes to investigate county hospital.

Local governments across the East Bay are now entering budget season. Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi is expected to provide the Board of Supervisors with an update on the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget this week. She suggests they expect the worst.

“We probably have more than a recession and it’s something we need to take care of in the long-term ,” Muranishi said last week.

In the short-term, the county has been fronting a large amount of cash to keep its community-based organizations up and running, along with emergency expenditures to help the unsheltered. Many COVID-19 expenditures will be reimbursed by FEMA, perhaps by up to 75 percent. But repayment could take a long time, Muranishi said, along with an inordinate amount of accounting required by federal officials.

The virus’ effects on the local economy are echoing for some the Great Recession era, which witnessed massive cuts to city staffs, reductions in services, and arguments over employee pensions. At the height of the Great Recession, Alameda County stared down a record $177.6 million budget shortfall during Fiscal Year 2009-2010.

Cities in Alameda County are also bracing for the COVID-19 bill. Oakland’s two-year budget outlook was already disconcerting with a high percentage of pension liabilities. Last month, just after the shelter in place order was given, Hayward officials suggested the city’s losses from the pandemic could be an estimated $1 million a month. With sales tax receipts, the life blood of municipal treasuries, completely dry over the past month, expect similar budget woes in every East Bay city.

Supes to Investigate Alameda Health System

Supervisors will investigate hospital workers’ allegations that Alameda Health System hospitals were unprepared for the pandemic and have failed to protect employees during the crisis. In addition, Supervisor Wilma Chan said she will present an alternative governance model for oversight of the system, which operates Highland Hospital and other facilities.

Since the onset of the pandemic, pre-existing questions about the system’s governance have again come to the forefront. Two weeks ago, unions representing medical workers at Highland Hospital sent a letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors encouraging them to take over control of the system, which also includes Alameda Hospital, San Leandro Hospital, and other facilities.

The governance currently in place includes an eight-member board appointed by supervisors. Chan said supes have long questioned the arrangement’s efficacy. Her peers, particularly Scott Haggerty, have long harangued officials about a loan to help rebuild and expand the Highland Hospital campus. The system owes the county roughly $160 million.

Once the shelter in place order is lifted, Chan said she will initiate a process to create a new governance model with “direct, clear lines of accountability to our board.”

Hospital trustees voiced displeasure about gathering such information in the midst of a pandemic. Board of Trustees President Dr. Noha Aboelata said the move will undermine its role as overseer of the hospitals. Trustees also disagreed with supes about having two groups investigate the hospitals at the same time — one from supervisors and one from trustees. “Why aren’t we doing it together from day one?” Trustee Joe DeVries asked. Chan’s response was “It’s the best we can do.”

Minimum Wages on Hold?

Alameda city staff is proposing a delay in raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour for one year due to the negative effects of the pandemic on local businesses. If approved by the council, the wage would reach $15 an hour on July 1, 2021.

The move would follow Hayward, which voted to put its increase on pause for six months. Three of the four councilmembers who supported the delay cast their voice vote with “regrettably yes.” Councilmembers Mark Salinas, Al Mendall, Elisa Marquez supported the item, along with Mayor Barbara Halliday.

The gambit by Hayward, and now Alameda, has alarmed local labor groups. Fremont, another city set to hit $15 on July 1, is also contemplating a similar delay. In San Leandro, where the minimum wage is also scheduled to increase to $15 an hour on July 1, a similar proposal to hold up the wage bump has not been officially raised, but business leaders there have lobbied city officials to follow suit, San Leandro insiders said.

In Other News …

Almost one-thirds of all renters in the U.S. didn’t make their April rent payment, according to Axios. … Yelp and Eventbrite announced massive layoffs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Yelp is laying off 1,000 and furloughing another 1,100. Eventbrite plans to layoff 450 workers. … About 224,000 unemployment checks from the state that are bolstered with an extra $600 were sent over the weekend, the East Bay Times reported. …

Oakland opened a public testing site at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center’s parking lot. Berkeley is opening its first COVID-19 testing site, Berkeleyside reported. The site will prioritize testing for first-responders, essential workers, and the unsheltered. San Leandro is eyeing a center, possibly in conjunction with Alameda County Fire Dept. and Eden Health District. During its first two weeks of operation, the Hayward COVID-19 testing site reported 226 positives out of 2,089 tests. …

Schools in Alameda County, and five other Bay Area counties, will not re-open this academic year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The announcement affects roughly 1 million students. The districts will continue distance learning at home. Berkeley Unified School District officials suspended its distance learning lessons after a “zoombomber,” a naked man spouting profanities, appeared in one of the virtual classroom, Berkeleyside reported.

With the number of COVID-19 cases at Santa Rita Jail rising to 13, a federal magistrate judge on Thursday questioned whether some defendants awaiting trial should be held in custody, The Recorder reported. Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena will be released from prison due to COVID-19, NBC Bay Area reported. … State authorities seized 50,000 N95 respirators from a warehouse in Fremont. …

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s sons said Monday that he was discharged from an intensive care unit, but remains hospitalized as he recovers from pneumonia. The congressman developed pneumonia unrelated to COVID-19.

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