Beginning May 3, the Beverly Hills City Hall will be open to the public by appointment. Now that COVID-19 transmission rates are falling, the City Council unanimously approved a plan for the phased resumption of in-person services. City Council meetings, however, will not resume until June 15.
In order to best coordinate and prepare for the resumption of work at City Hall, the city formed various committees to develop protocols and processes for a phased return. One such entity, the Public Works Safer At Work (SAW) Committee, upgraded facilities to include 3,500 sq. ft. of acrylic shields at staff workstations and public counters, new and more efficient MERV 13 filters, and touchless faucets in staff and public restrooms. Additionally, the city has increased the frequency of cleaning of city facilities and parking structures.
The return to City Hall will take place in steps. Under county guidelines, no more than 75 percent of office space can be occupied at one time. The Beverly Hills Public Library, which is currently offering sidewalk services, will open for appointments starting April 26. Sidewalk services, where members can reserve an item and staff will bring it out to them, will continue. Public Works will also resume services starting April 26. All other services are scheduled to return to City Hall on May 3.
For public meetings, including City Council and commission meetings, staff recommended waiting until June 15. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines for office worksites warns that in-person meetings are strongly discouraged in favor of virtual meetings.”
In cases where in-person meetings must take place, they must be limited to 15 or fewer participants. As Vice Mayor Lili Bosse pointed out, with council members and staff, this would leave only four spots open for the public. Furthermore, even if all council members and staff were vaccinated, they would still have to adhere to mask guidelines.
Staff sought advice from the Council on the level of screening for visitors to City Hall and the enforcement of face covering requirements. Council members all agreed that the city should administer symptom checks to the public and enforce mask mandates. Bosse asked City Attorny Laurence Weiner about whether the city could legally compel mask wearing.
“You are allowed to ask them to wear a face covering and if they do not comply with that you can escort them out of the room,” Weiner said.
According to Assistant City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey, the city is working through the logistics of an on-site but outdoor alternative for those who refuse to wear a mask. The proposal would allow staff to escort individuals to an outdoor location on City Hall property where they could participate in meetings or seek services through a technological link of some kind.
Councilmember John Mirisch suggested that the city make a transition to hybrid meetings that allow for both in-person and remote participation. Other council members have floated this idea in the past, including the current mayor.
“The notion of wearing masks during an entire council meeting while we’re speaking…does not appeal [to me] and I don’t think it’s the best form of government either. I think we’re better off doing what we’re doing now, until such time as we are able to have our meetings and not have to have those masks,” Mirisch said.
Councilmember Julian Gold, the only medical doctor on the Council, sounded a note of caution. “Masks may be here for years. There’s no guarantee that masks are going away over the summer,” Gold said. “So, at some point, we’re either going to have to stay at home or we’re going to have to go back to City Hall. But masks are not going to go away. COVID is not going to go away.”