Renton City Council continued discussions of how to help the city during the coronavirus pandemic, and how to protect renters and small businesses, on Monday, March 23, during both the Committee of the Whole meeting and the regular council meeting.
Mayor Armondo Pavone announced the city has suspended water shutoffs and waive utility late fee payments and penalties for 90 days for Renton residents. More information on utility billing can be found by calling 425-430-6852 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The city also waived certain permitting fees or signage fees to help assist businesses at this time.
After push from council during a discussion at the regular meeting, the administration is going to examine adding more to the governor’s 30-day moratorium on evictions, including looking at the feasibility of adding a waiver for late fees and adding an extension to the moratorium on evictions. The city staff present at the council meeting were not sure if implementing these things would be possible or legal, and were going to bring their findings back to council.
Councilmember Kim-Khanh Van asked administrators what the city could do for small businesses both right now and for recovery once the coronavirus shutdown is through.
During the council meeting Van proposed a small business stabilization fund of $200,000. Council didn’t approve the fund, but approved taking the idea to the administration to determine its feasibility. Renton Administrative Services Administrator Jan Hawn, during the Committee of the Whole meeting prior to that, said there is possibly a legal issue with offering a financial support fund for small businesses from public dollars.
Also at the Committee off the Whole meeting, Mayor Armondo Pavone gave an update on COVID-19 in Renton and opened the meeting to questions from councilmembers.
“I’m addressing you this evening in one of the most unique situations in world history, a significant world wide heath pandemic. Our city has had to take unprecedented steps,” Pavone said. “In many ways, the city was prepared for this challenge. Our governing systems are being tested in ways not seen before.”
Finally, Pavone said the administrators and city staff have been outstanding at this time, and shined a light on Renton for its ability to do business during this crisis.
“We continue to make sure we are on the front end of these issues as they come up,” Pavone said.
He continued to say he has been in contact with nonprofit partners to make sure their efforts in the city to stay successful. Mayor Pavone also said he would continue to advocate for small businesses at the state and federal level.
Pavone addressed that some Renton residents have continued to gather against social distancing guidelines, and said he was taking steps to amend that, including closing certain park facilities.
During questions, Councilmember Valerie O’Halloran and Council President Ruth Pérez both asked Police Chief Ed VanValey what type on enforcement will happen under the new stay-at-home order, which was issued by Gov. Jay Inslee just moments before the committee meeting began on Monday.
VanValey said that they are not looking to detain or ticket folks for violations of going out for nonessential business, but instead want to educate and be present in public spaces. However, this type of issuance from the governor does allow enforcement action if needed.
“The worst case scenario if somebody continued to be a problem in the parks or something, we could take them through the courts,” he said, but added SCORE jail would not taking these types of arrests.
Community Services Administrator Kelly Beymer also said the Renton Senior Activity Center lunch program has started to pick up again, and Friday they had 65 takeout lunches, up to almost as many seniors they get during hot lunches. In the first few days of the move to bagged lunch very few seniors were picking up their lunches.
Councilmember Randy Corman shared with the council that when his wife broke her arm last week, it showed them how swamped the healthcare system is right now. He said residents should be more careful than usual.
“It’s good to get exercise, and people have times to do chores, but I would suggest those who might clean their gutters go against doing that,” Corman said. “There’s a lot of doctors that just can’t see people.”
The city then brought in Renton Regional Fire Authority Chief Rick Marshall to talk about how they are keeping the city safe, including the retirement and assisted living communities, in Renton.
At the meeting, the council discussed how teleworking for employees has helped prevent spread of coronavirus. They said so far one city employee was tested inconclusive for COVID-19.
The council also talked about the coronavirus in its impact to the 2020 U.S. Census. The city has put a lot of effort and grant money into the census for almost half a year, that came to a halt with the cancellation of events due to the spread of the virus. Now, Pavone said, they’re trying to use almost every communication possible to bring it up to residents. During Administrative Report at the regular council meeting, Harrison said the city is falling behind other cities in the latest counts of households completing the census.
Renton 2020 U.S. Census mailers are out to the community now, use the mailer and visit my2020census.gov now to respond.
Van also addressed the backlash Asian communities around Renton have received from racism and misconceptions related to novel coronavirus, both at the committee meeting and the regular council meeting, reminding that Renton is an inclusive city that doesn’t tolerate discrimination.
“I appreciate the mayor and the city for your newsletter from the get go, regarding the nondiscrimination,” Van said. “This is not a ‘Chinese virus.’ And what the occupant of the White House is saying has put our community members in fear.”
Council won’t be meeting March 30. Their Committee of the Whole and Renton City Council meetings will be available to watch at rentonwa.gov/channel21.