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Los Angeles Mayor Talks Preparations For Worse Days Ahead


And I'm Ailsa Chang in Culver City, Calif., a state that now has more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19. A quarter of those cases are in the Los Angeles area, where I am. In his speech to the city last night, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti predicted many more cases are on the way.


ERIC GARCETTI: And I want to be clear, the worst days are still ahead. Our hearts break for what we see in Italy, for what we see in Spain, for what we see in New York City. It's coming here. We've taken actions earlier and swifter, but nobody is immune from this virus.

CHANG: Meanwhile, the federal emergency relief package is working its way through Congress, which could provide help to LA's airport, Metro and homeless shelters. For more on steps forward in this crisis, we're joined now by Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti.


GARCETTI: Thank you. Good to be with you.

CHANG: OK, so the jobless numbers are in, and we are seeing just huge numbers of people who are newly unemployed now. What is LA's plan to help these people beyond the federal relief package that's going to likely pass Congress?

GARCETTI: Well, we're doing everything we can, first and foremost, to save lives but, as you said, also to try to protect livelihoods. And the economic stimulus package, as it was called - I agree - it's more of a relief or even economic survival, and that's dollars upon dollars over pennies that local government can do.

That said, we're lucky in Los Angeles we have our own utility. We immediately said people's power, water wouldn't be cut off. The gas company joined us. We said there would be no evictions from housing for both commercial and residential tenants. And we're also raising money to try to help those who will be forgotten or left behind by federal legislation, including immigrants, of course, to provide childcare for our health care workers and to have microloans to local businesses that are here. But that money will run out very quickly...

CHANG: Right. And I'm curious...

GARCETTI: ...And I think we're going to need to keep coming back to the feds.

CHANG: ...What about gig workers, like food delivery people or guards and electricians on film sets? I mean, this federal rescue package offers some assistance to people like that, but will LA offer more for those specific individuals?

GARCETTI: Well, we don't have extra money, but we are trying to target the money that we raise to go exactly to those sorts of folks, whether they're immigrants or gig workers or people who don't qualify for some of the federal money. The good thing is it looks like the federal package will include them, at least in the cash assistance. They won't get the unemployment benefits and things like that that would come from an employer laying them off.

And I think that the Congress and White House need to really focus on how our economy has changed, how capitalism has changed in America and make sure that folks are not left behind because we can help people out for maybe a week or two, but local governments simply don't have those sorts of resources.

CHANG: Speaking of folks left behind, I want to turn specifically to homelessness in LA. There are already tens of thousands of people without homes in LA County. Are you preparing for many more people to lose their homes because of this economic slowdown?

GARCETTI: No, but we are very focused on those that are unhoused now. I say no because there will be no evictions during this - people who are living in cars or campers are not going to be towed. People whose registration is expired, we are not going to ticket or tow. So people that are housed right now won't lose their housing. That's very important.

But secondly, the folks that are unhoused now - there's a massive surge we're undertaking, guided by public health guidance, but, you know, we are building 2,200 new beds for homeless Angelenos over an 18-month period. It was the fastest pace in the country. To put in perspective, we're going to do probably 2,000 in just two weeks.

CHANG: I saw that; you're building thousands of emergency shelter beds and city recreation centers to house people, but that would mean a lot of them will be living more closely together indoors. So what are you doing to make sure that that doesn't just accelerate the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless?

GARCETTI: Well, two things. We got that advice from our public health officials here to do that, that it was better than people being on the streets, but we're screening everybody ahead of time. So it'll be one of the safest places, actually, for anybody to be - spacing them at a proper distance and making sure that there's health care on-site so that anybody who has a fever with regular checks would immediately be quarantined and taken elsewhere.


GARCETTI: Second, we think we'll have twice as many beds that will be in hotels and motels than in those shelters. So these will be isolated areas where people can be protected and-or get well.

CHANG: I want to talk about LA's trajectory now. New York is, at the moment, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. But as you and Governor Newsom have repeatedly said, the worst is yet to come here in California. What lessons are you learning now, as you're watching New York, to better position LA's hospitals?

GARCETTI: Well, you know, we see - everybody says we're going to be the next X. Iran was the new China. Italy was the new Iran. New York is the new Italy. And many people are saying California will be the new New York.

First and foremost, my message to everybody is be ready no matter where you are and adopt these things as early as possible. In Topeka, Kan., where there's zero cases, my friend, the mayor there, Michelle De La Isla, took this order, and I said thank you; you have saved lives because the best thing you can do for a hospital is to start the social distancing with extreme measures as quickly as possible, as we did here in Los Angeles.

Second, mayors everywhere are scrambling. We're on this crazy kind of confederal system where we're all in the marketplace. We had 100,000 masks from somebody that we always buy from that were ready to come, and they said, sorry, even though you gave us the check and cut the contract, FEMA needed those. It's kind of a crazy environment out there. So we've tried to recall as many health professionals as possible. Over a thousand of those have volunteered to step up, either pro bono or paid, into positions that we're going to need.

CHANG: All right.

GARCETTI: And we're looking at spaces everywhere...


GARCETTI: ...To get more beds.

CHANG: That is Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. Thank you very much for joining us today.

GARCETTI: Thank you. Strength and love to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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