In three separate unanimous votes, the Pasadena City Council on Monday agreed to temporarily turn Pasadena Center into an auxiliary hospital able to treat up to 250 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, use state funds to help get more people experiencing homelessness into protective shelters, and suspend collection of underground utility surtaxes and issue millions of dollars in rebates in an effort to pump new economic life into the city.

In a related development Monday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services unveiled a $500,000 fund to help area businesses. City News Service reported that $10,000 grants will be doled out to 150 businesses on a first-come, firs-served basis.

“The coronavirus pandemic has impacted residents and businesses throughout Los Angeles County,”the local wire service quotes Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes unincorporated Altadena. “It is vitally important that we pursue every resource available to support local business and help maintain good job opportunities throughout the region.”

In order to qualify for a grant, businesses must: be a for-profit corporation, partnership, or nonprofit with a for-profit activity in Los Angeles County; have between two and 50 full-time employees; have less than $2 million in gross receipts or annual revenue; have been established on or before Dec. 4; be able to produce tax returns; and demonstrate significant economic hardship as a result of COVID-19. Businesses that have demonstrated evidence of a loss of revenue of at least 20 percent will have met this burden.

Businesses can use the money to: pay mortgages, rent or utilities; cover working capital costs; pay for inventory; bridge funding to other lenders, such as Small Business Administration Payroll Protection; and pay down other debt incurred before the covered period. The grants may not be used to pay outstanding taxes, legal judgments, employee payroll or benefits, or for lobbying.

At its meeting Monday afternoon, the Pasadena City Council approved plans to transform Pasadena Center  into a 250-bed auxiliary hospital, a process which is likely to occur within a matter of days.

This did not sit well with one resident who wrote of his concerns about safety. Saying the South Marengo Avenue side of the facility will be used for bringing in equipment and patients, as well as taking out people who have died, “We do not feel it can be safe,” the resident wrote in a letter to the council. However, two other residents of the area said they agreed with the decision, City Clerk Mark Jomsky said during the meeting, with council members meeting for a second week via video and only staff members actually attending the afternoon session at City Hall.

The initial cost of establishing the temporary medical facility is $250,000 for the first month and $180,000 for each month thereafter. “Based on current projections it is anticipated that the facility may needed for 60 to 90 days, with the total cost ranging between $430,000 and $610,000,” states a staff report on the project. The council agreed with a staff request to approve a contract with Redrock Entertainment Services, which specializes in providing such services for concerts,  festivals and other large events, “not to exceed $700,000 to allow for up to 90 days of operation and/or any adjustment to service levels such as an increase in beds,” according to the report.

Medical staff and equipment, as well as liability, would be covered by Huntington Hospital, according to Huntington President and CEO Lori J. Morgan.

Although city officials looked at long-shuttered St. Luke Hospital in East Pasadena and a number of local school sites, the Pasadena Center, according to the report, was chosen because it has 97,000 square feet of flexible space that can be configured as needed, a subterranean loading dock, full food service and is located approximately one mile from the hospital.

On the homeless front, last month Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 89, which was approved unanimously by the Legislature and authorized a total appropriation of up to $1 billion to provide assistance to California counties, Continuum of Care (CoCs) communities, and the state’s 13 largest cities to help fight the spread of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness. Newsom allocated $100 million in emergency funding from SB 89 to local governments to help reduce the spread of the virus by safely getting individuals into shelters and providing immediate housing options. The city, which is a continuum of care community, was awarded $105,625 for emergency homelessness funding.

And in a move that staff called “the responsible thing to do” while not impacting the city’s general fund, the council voted to suspend $2 million in utility fees for six months and approved $11.4 million in rebates from the city’s underground utility surtax for more than 67,000 Pasadena Water and Power Department business and residential customers.

Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little, in an email to the council, called the move “a step in the right direction,” but wrote “absent meaningful financial support from the city of Pasadena, many of the local small businesses you are assisting with this modest financial contribution will not be able to reopen once the COVID-19 crisis passes.”

As explained in the city staff report, the amount of money in the surtax fund has “greatly exceeded the amount necessary to complete identified projects.”

So, the report states, “Rather than hold these funds and continue to collect the surtax, given the unprecedented financial challenges facing many of the city’s electric rate-payers whether they be individuals or businesses, staff is proposing to suspend collection of the sSurtax for a period of six months and to rebate to existing and qualifying former electric customers, amounts collected over the past 24 months.”