Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to accurately reflect how much the transportation occupancy tax contributes to the City of Dana Point’s annual budget. 

Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times

Dana Point City Council unanimously approved a few changes to the city’s declaration of a local emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic during a meeting on Tuesday, April 7. City staff has also been given direction to pursue finger-prick testing for COVID-19 and possible partnerships for data collection.

As a direct result, recreational vehicles (RVs) are now authorized to be parked in the immediate vicinity of a resident’s home for longer than the allowed 72 hours, subject to a permit issued by the Director of Public Works, which may be
conditioned as deemed appropriate.

Hotels and short-term rentals may continue to operate if providing shelter to traveling medical workers, first responders, people displaced by COVID-19, or other similar instances, but they may not operate to accommodate vacation or leisure travel.

Councilmember Debra Lewis alluded to Newport Beach’s decision to temporarily ban short-term rentals with the exception of medical workers and emergency responders before seeking clarification on how Dana Point would enforce the new restrictions.

“I encourage residents to call our hotline,” City Manager Mike Killebrew said. The number to call is 435-STR-HELP (or 435-787-4357). People can also submit grievances with a complaint form online at hotscompliance.com/tips.

City Attorney Patrick Muñoz added that violating these directives could result in misdemeanor penalties, as they are a violation of both the state order and municipal code.

“We could take any action we could take to any code violation with the added penalty provided by government code, in respect to emergency orders,” Muñoz said.

Additionally, in an effort to comply with state- and county-issued “stay at home” orders, the city closed an additional trail and added additional parking restrictions and road closures to help alleviate crowds and curb the spread of COVID-19.

Councilmember Joe Muller prompted city staff to look into the potential for finger-prick testing for COVID-19 and possible partnerships with research groups (such as UC Irvine) for the purpose of data collection.

“I took the test, as did my family, to see what it was about,” Muller said. “We got our negative test results within minutes.”

The qualitative rapid serology testing kit that Muller had used has been developed by EqualTox Laboratory in Tustin. Serology tests reportedly detect the body’s immune response to infection rather than the virus-causing infection. The FDA has cautioned that these tests are not to be used to diagnose COVID-19, but officials throughout the county hope to use them to better understand the virus spread.

Muller’s directive requested staff to investigate protocol for residents, first responders and staff to figure out how to get testing and subsequent results into a larger database.

City costs associated with any response or supply purchases are being covered by existing department budgets, but will be tracked separately. According to the agenda report, city staff will pursue federal and state reimbursement for all city costs incurred once funding assistance is approved.

Following the council’s approval on changes for the declaration of emergency, Killebrew provided chilling forecasts on the city’s budget. Absent of the coronavirus pandemic, revenues were trending to exceed budget.

“The effects of COVID-19 on the second calendar quarter of this year are going to be absolutely devastating,” Killebrew said. “The hotels have had almost zero occupancy for several months. . . . I know restaurants are trying to stay alive.”

Killebrew added that city staff has had regular contact with hotels and the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce.

“It is not an overstatement to say all levels of government and the private sector are still working to understand the full ramifications of COVID-19 and actions taken to mitigate its spread,” Killebrew said. “This agenda report is simply a beginning of what will be many months of discussions regarding the extent of the financial hit we are all experiencing, also the extent of which it will last.”

The transient occupancy tax (TOT), the city’s largest source of revenue, is projected to be short about $3 million of what was initially budgeted. Originally budgeted to bring in $12.75 million, Killebrew now forecasts $9.5 million from TOT, which typically accounts for 30% of the city budget. A nearly $40 million budget was adopted in June 2019 for the FY20 General Fund revenue budget.

No general fund budget adjustments were recommended as of the council meeting. However, budget adjustments for other city funds will be recommended for city approval in the coming meetings.

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