While vehicular traffic may have dramatically diminished since L.A. County began observing the Governor’s Safer at Home directive on March 19 to curb the spread of COVID-19, construction projects throughout Beverly Hills continue mostly unabated.
In fact, according to City Building Official Raj Patel, the City is actually experiencing a steady flow of new permits. In March Patel said the City issued approximately 400 building permits, which represented a slight decrease from February. However, he noted that it was too early to tell if it’s reflective of future construction activity or is due to the mid-month transition from the permit center at City Hall to a virtual platform.
“To be honest we really haven’t seen a slowdown in terms of construction,” he told the Courier. “For us inspection is going on as usual with the exception of the means and methods.”
Deemed essential by Gov. Gavin Newsom and County officials, in addition to such trades as plumbing and electrical, building construction continues to forge ahead amidst the global pandemic, with some proprietors even taking advantage of the forced shutdown of non-essential businesses to make property renovations.
“It’s a pretty savvy group of businesses in Beverly Hills,” Patel opined. “A lot of businesses are using it as an opportunity to do renovations.”
From Chanel pulling permits to renovate its Rodeo Drive Boutique to the City Council’s decision to temporarily close portions of Wilshire Blvd and Beverly Blvd to expedite construction on the Metro Purple Line Extension, Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Todd Johnson underscored how important it is to support endeavors that bring life and vibrancy to the City.
“Hats off to the City for saying, ‘Let’s try to get as much done as we can during this downtime,'” Johnson told the Courier. “I think we’ve all come to grips there’s a good chance we’re going to be like this until at least June. I think we’ll be lucky to see businesses open in June.”
Patel estimated there were over 1,000 active building permits for projects at various stages now underway around Beverly Hills. While some projects await only a final inspection certification and others have just filed the initial permit with the City, residents throughout Beverly Hills can easily witness ongoing construction.
While the majority of construction is for single family properties, large-scale construction likewise continues. Patel estimated there were roughly 60 workers alone involved at the mixed-use condominium project at 9200 Wilshire.
To help educate property owners and contractors, Patel said the City emailed over 3,000 individuals and companies “COVID- 19 Construction Safety Guidelines,” which are based on recommendations put forth by the Los Angeles County Department of Health on what is currently known about the virus. Available on the City’s website, Beverly Hills building inspectors are also handing out the guidelines upon arriving at all job site inspections.
The City is also now requiring contractors to follow a list of supplemental construction safety guidelines recently issued by the County of Los Angeles, many of which were previously detailed in the County’s guidelines for all essential businesses. Businesses are tasked with taking a multiplicity of precautions, which include social distancing at least six feet and providing access to hand washing facilities with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. In addition, businesses are encouraged to adopt risk mitigation strategies such as educating workers to effectively maintain social distancing; identifying and monitoring high risk closed-in areas to ensure social distancing is maintained; staggering workers to reduce density; providing personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate; cleaning and disinfecting equipment before and after use; requiring anyone on the project to stay home if they are ill; and having employees inform their supervisor if they live with anyone that has COVID-19.
“As inspectors navigate the City, they visually spot check ongoing construction sites to monitor compliance and share best practices for safety as recommended by health professionals. City inspectors also follow up on COVID-19 concerns related to construction sites received from residents and the general public,” Patel said. “Our building inspectors are also advised to use the latest best practices while making field inspections, including the use of face coverings, gloves/hand sanitizer, and safe distancing.”
He said that the City receives multiple calls each day from residents voicing concerns about various construction projects, which the City responds to by dispatching an inspector to follow up on the matter. In addition, Patel said that Beverly Hills Ambassadors, Code Enforcement officials and Police Officers further act as the City’s “eyes and ears” in helping to monitor that work is done according to the proscribed standards.
“I think all of us are doing our best to make sure that all of us are educating people,” he said. “If we notice something on the site that’s questionable, we’ll let the superintendent know that this is a concern that they need to take care of.”
As construction projects move ahead, Patel emphasized how the City has adapted to allow for digital plan review.
“One thing that’s amazing is that we’ve gone from a walk-in permit center to a 100 percent virtual center,” he said, noting that email traffic has doubled or tripled since the “Safer at Home” mandate. “I want people to realize that we are open and we’re busy. We’re here to help everybody. If people have concerns, we will address them. We’ll do everything we can to make the quality of life for residents as good as possible.”