LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With COVID-19 cases in the county reaching record highs, the Los Angeles City Council today began its 2022 session with a return to virtual meetings for the first time since June 2021.
``These times may be scary and cases are rapidly growing, and it might feel like we're going back to 2020 as we return back to our meetings,'' Council President Nury Martinez said to open the session.
``But let's be clear, our city is prepared to respond and adjust just like we've done before. We must do what we can to keep our city running and keep programs staffed and our city pushing forward, and that means limiting in-person interactions as much as possible for the time being.''
Los Angeles County reported a staggering 37,215 new COVID-19 cases in its latest data, by far the highest single-day number from throughout the entire pandemic, while hospitalizations also continued climbing, although still well short of the peak set during last winter's surge in infections.
The daily number of new cases broke a record set by the county just last week -- 27,091 reported last Friday. Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who was absent from the virtual meeting Friday, announced on Tuesday that she tested positive for the virus.
City Council meetings were held virtually twice a week from March 2020 until June 15, 2021, when the City Council resumed in-person meetings, although members of the public continued participating virtually. After the initial Friday meeting this week, the City Council's Friday meetings will be suspended for the month and council members will meet virtually only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
At the end of the month, officials will revisit holding in-person council meetings.
Looking ahead at the year, Martinez said the council will work to ``keep Angelenos safe from coronavirus and to turn Los Angeles into a city that works for everyone.''
She noted the thousands of people in the city who are living in poverty, women who are struggling to re-enter the workforce during the pandemic, and the challenges that local businesses continue to face.
``These are people who should benefit from our future's prosperity, so when we recover, these are the people who should reap the benefits and the work starts now. These are the issues we need to address in 2022 and we must prioritize them,'' Martinez said.
She added that next week she would release her legislative priorities for the year.
The council's first meeting of the year had a short agenda. Council members voted, as they do each month, to extend the mayor's March 4, 2020, pandemic-related declaration of emergency for an additional 30 days.
Several people called in to the City Council's meeting to oppose its enforcement of Municipal Code 41.18, the city's new anti-camping law that went into effect on Sept. 3 of last year. The law prohibits people from sleeping, sitting and camping in areas throughout the city, including within 500 feet of ``sensitive'' facilities like schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries once the council passes a resolution to enforce the law in a specific area.
The law was one of the most significant and heavily debated policies approved by the City Council in 2021.
Gregory Irwin, who identified himself as a resident of Council District 5, was one of several people to call into the meeting to oppose enforcement of the ordinance, noting the surge in COVID-19 cases.
``By enforcing 41.18, you are forcing some of the most vulnerable members of our community, who are unable to quarantine themselves, into deeper and deeper risk and spreading COVID throughout Los Angeles in general,'' Irwin said. He called for the declaration of emergency to be amended to include a stop to 41.18 enforcement.