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California Mayors Share How the Pandemic Shapes Their Cities

 Shoppers following COVID-19 protocol, in face coverings at a street market in Chinatown on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020 in Los Angeles. | Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This story was originally published Nov. 16, 2020 by CalMatters.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, several California mayors described how the crisis has affected their cities, from an impending “homelessness armageddon” to the success of pedestrian-oriented streets.  

The virtual event, moderated by CalMatters economy reporter Lauren Hepler, occurred less than an hour after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that most counties are headed back to the state’s most restrictive tier of reopening. About 94% of Californians will now live in counties with the most severe restrictions. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she received news of Alameda County’s purple tier status via text message during the discussion.  That means many non-essential businesses, such as restaurants, gyms and museums, are limited to outdoor activities.

“Our county just went from orange to purple. Orange to purple,” she said. “Almost the entire state of California now is in a horrific state with this current surge of cases and it could not be more serious. The impact on certain populations has been tremendous.”  

Fresno Mayor-Elect Jerry Dyer recently recovered from COVID-19.

“As I go into office, I’m going to have that personal experience to draw from, recognizing how significant this virus is and it is real and it is something that’s unpredictable,” he said. “I think it’s going to help govern some of the decisions that I make in office but it will also help me to have a more balanced perspective in terms of decision making. But I do not wish COVID-19 on anyone.”

Along with the pandemic, California’s never-ending housing crisis was on the top of the mayors’ minds. 

“The homelessness crisis was at a crisis level before COVID and I think all of us are holding our breath,” Schaaf said. “When this eviction moratorium is over, we could have homelessness armageddon.” 

Although rents are dropping in urban hubs like San Francisco, people are still struggling to pay rent. She said that California cities should seek creative solutions for renter relief.

Housing is a priority for all parts of the state.

“What we’ve seen in the last two years in Fresno is that our availability of housing has decreased by 50%,” Dyer said. 

“Almost the entire state of California now is in a horrific state with this current surge of cases and it could not be more serious. The impact on certain populations has been tremendous.”  <br>
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

As city dwellers in areas like San Francisco are given the option to work from home, many are finding the idea of more spacious living enticing. 

“Do they want to telework from an 800-square foot studio apartment or do they want to come to Fresno and live in a 2,800-square foot home for half that price?” he said. 

Dyer added that he predicts downtown Fresno will become a booming housing market. He anticipates downtown housing will double, if not triple, catering to a younger population.  

“The level of interest that we’ve had from developers, investors, venture capitalists in our  downtown area has been incredible over the last few months,” he said.   

Riverside mayor Rusty Bailey said it’s been rewarding to see more of his community out of their cars and instead walking and biking around town. 

“The bike shops are sold out,” he said. Adding that he has to wait two weeks to get his bike fixed. 

The experiments with outdoor dining are proving so popular in Long Beach that it’s mayor said he wants to make some permanent changes.

“I actually think we’re never going back to the way things were,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “In Long Beach right now, we have close to 300 parklet or parking lot restaurant spaces all across the city…It hasn’t been successful for everyone, but I think we’re looking at making many of these permanent, closing down a lot more streets to cars, so that piece is going to be different.” 

Today’s event was the latest in a series of “Future of Work” events co-hosted by CalMatters and the Milken Institute.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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