Los Angeles DWP
MyNewsLA.com photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will have the authority to shut off utilities to homes and businesses that host “egregious” gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“We’re Angelenos, we like to be with each other, we like to be around people, we want to see our friends and family, and I know how tough these months have been for all of us,” Garcetti said Wednesday, one day after a gang-related shooting at a large party at a mansion in Beverly Crest north of Beverly Hills left a 35-year-old mother of three dead and two other people hospitalized.

“Everything that we are doing, though, everything we individually and collectively are sacrificing depends on each one of us doing our part to reduce infections, hospitalizations and deaths.”

Garcetti said the house parties usually take place at short-term rental homes, but the city’s house party ordinance prohibits gatherings that could cause risks to people’s health and safety. That law includes a series of escalating fines on both the party host and homeowner, as well as possible misdemeanor charges for repeat offenders.

“While we have already closed all nightclubs and bars, these house parties have essentially become night clubs in the hills,” the mayor said.

Garcetti said if the city’s authorities see repeat offenses at a property, the city will be able to shut down that property’s utilities within 48 hours of the violation.

Councilman David Ryu earlier on Wednesday filed a motion asking for similar punishments for people who host large gatherings and parties. Penalties from Ryu’s motion could include permit prohibitions or having a certificate of occupancy held or revoked in addition to utility shutoffs.

Ryu’s motion seeks to bring the Department of Building and Safety, Department of City Planning , Department of Water and Power, and the Housing and Community Investment Department together to identify code violations that threaten public health and well-being.

The motion further requests the city attorney to draft an ordinance based on the recommendations to hold property owners accountable for illegal parties held at their locations that threaten public health. Ryu’s motion is to be heard by the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

Los Angeles County’s public health director, meanwhile, warned again Wednesday that such gatherings are forbidden under coronavirus-prevention orders, and attending them endangers the public at large. Barbara Ferrer said infection rates among residents aged 30 to 49 nearly tripled between June and late July, and rates among those 18-29 quadrupled.

“These two age groups continue to drive new infections here in the county,” Ferrer said.

She said people in the 18-29 age group now represent twice the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the county than they did in April, matching the rate of people aged 80 and over. People aged 30-49 now represent 25% of all hospitalized virus patients.

Ferrer said the county has reported hundreds of deaths among younger age groups, but noted that younger people who become infected but don’t become severely ill can still pass the virus to older residents who might require hospitalization or even die.

Without specifically referencing any particular gathering, Ferrer called such massive collections of people a “bad idea” and a breeding ground for the virus among younger residents. On Friday night, dozens of people attended a private party at a bar in Hollywood, and earlier this week, hundreds of people attended the house party in Beverly Crest.

Ferrer expressed frustration at people who would host or attend a party.

“I do think an equally important question to ask is why so many people are willing to put our entire community at risk during this unprecedented pandemic,” she said.

Driving home the point that COVID-19 can affect anyone, regardless of age, Ferrer pointed to a recently documented outbreak along USC’s fraternity row that has so far resulted in 45 positive cases of the virus. She said a separate smaller outbreak occurred among another group of USC students who were studying and socializing together.

Ferrer also said at least eight football players at UCLA have tested positive. UCLA Athletics issued a statement saying all student-athletes are tested for COVID-19 and antibodies when they return to campus, and those who travel by plane must quarantine for seven days before reporting to athletic facilities for medical screening.

Ferrer Wednesday announced another 2,347 confirmed cases of the virus, but she again noted that the number is likely due to continued technological problems at the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system, which has resulted in an undercount stretching back at least two weeks.

She warned that once the backlog clears, the county will likely see a sharp rise in the overall number of cases. As of Wednesday, the countywide case total since the start of the pandemic stood at 197,912.

The state reporting backlog, however, does not affect the daily reporting of deaths or hospitalizations, and both of those numbers have been trending downward, leading Ferrer to again say she is “cautiously optimistic” about the success of local efforts to control the spread of the virus.

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