Rep. Norma J. Torres, D-Ontario, Monday rejected a Los Angeles County plan to use 244 rooms at the Sheraton Fairplex hotel to quarantine coronavirus patients.
“I recognize the importance for our community to have a plan for housing coronavirus patients, but I have yet to actually see the plan announced last week,” Torres said in a statement released Monday morning.
“A state of emergency does not mean we should disregard the laws that hold elected officials accountable,” she said, adding “the Brown Act still applies, and the people of Pomona have a right to know the details about what is happening in their city.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis — who represents the district that includes Pomona and the Fairplex — joined with the county’s top health official to announce the plan last week.
“Our overwhelmed health care system will not be able to admit every person with mild symptoms of COVID-19. As we contain the spread of this virus, we need quarantine sites where people can receive care and heal,” Solis said.
Solis praised the Fairplex and Sheraton for “courage and compassion” in providing “a safe space where (residents) can recuperate and recover.”
The agreement calls for the entire hotel to be used by the county through May 31, with the potential for a four-week extension.
Torres said she wasn’t asked for her perspective.
“I’ve represented Fairplex as a city council member, mayor, state assemblywoman, state senator, and now as a member of Congress,” Torres said. “My experience is clearly relevant to a plan like this, but I had no opportunity to provide input, and therefore cannot in good conscience endorse it either.
“There are glaring concerns for my community that the county must address,” she said. “We will now have a hot zone in the heart of a working-class community — what resources will they provide for preparation? Furthermore, this is not a lockdown facility. With a senior mobile home right down the street, several assisted living facilities just blocks away, and too many group homes for severely handicapped people to count all nearby, what plans are in place for when someone leaves?”
Solis said Monday that other locations are being considered — Dockweiler Beach has already been selected — and property owners are stepping up with offers.
“The Sheraton Fairplex’s action has prompted other vacant motels and hotels to contact us to offer their properties as possible sites to house individuals affected by the virus,” Solis said.
Solis did not mention Torres’ objections directly, but said, “We cannot allow fear and uncertainty to guide us … we must all rally together to protect our most vulnerable from possible exposure to COVID-19. Instead of divisive rhetoric, we should all offer steady, unifying leadership. Instead of saying, `Not in my backyard,’ we should ask, `How can I help?”’
Miguel Santana, president and CEO of the Fairplex enterprise that runs the sprawling county fair, said this might be the most important community service role the Fairplex has played in its 98-year history.
“Fairplex is offering its unwavering support to Los Angeles County for its plan to provide regional accommodations for individuals who must be separated from their loved ones who have been medically directed to self-isolate,” Santana said in a statement announcing the agreement last week.
Seeking to slow the spread of the coronavirus “goes to the core of what Fairplex is all about: supporting, even preserving community. And never is this more important than when the threat is greatest and we all feel challenged to think of our own needs first,” Santana said.
Torres said the Fairplex-hotel-adjacent population “is more than willing to take on this burden and help our neighbors. But it’s not too much to ask for local officials to meet the moment too — we expect them to keep us informed and as safe as possible.”
Santana pointed Monday to support from local residents.
“The majority of the comments I’ve received from neighbors and residents are in alignment with what we are doing, noting that this fight to contain the coronavirus is a local as well as global effort. We are all in this together,” Santana said in an email to City News Service.
Public health officials will determine who will be referred to the Sheraton.
The Fairplex Child Development Center will also open its doors to the children of health care workers and first responders — including from the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center — to allow families to be closer together during a time of great strain.
A drive-through food pantry will also be opened on the Fairplex grounds.