Burning Down The Village

Posted by Mike Michalski on Wednesday, April 1st, 2020.

"We had to destroy the village in order to save it."
 - Unnamed army major to AP correspondent Peter Arnett, referring to the US bombing of a South Vietnamese village in February, 1968.
Much like in Vietnam, we are today experiencing a war against an implacable, nearly invisible enemy and we have a President who refers to himself as a wartime president and has even invoked the wartime powers of the Defense Production Act to direct General Motors to start making ventilators.
And, apparently just like Vietnam, the decision seems to have been made that we must destroy the entire country (at least economically) in order to save it.
Never mind the myriad lives lost and health issues that would strain our medical systems as the direct result of a new Great Depression - suicides, opioid and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, criminal violence and the multitude of health-related issues that derive from extreme financial distress.
This mentality might ultimately prove to be the triumph of emotion over logic, of hysteria over reason if the cure proves to be worse than the disease.
As the Manhattan Beach City Council continues to waiver between those two poles in its efforts to deal with this truly unique set of circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 virus, we're left wondering which side will win out.
Thankfully, in the case of residential construction in Manhattan Beach, reason prevailed.
But, as we've come to expect from a less-than-stellar Council, it was a close call.  In fact, it wasn't their call at all. 
Ultimately, the issue boiled down to whether residential construction constitutes an essential or a non-essential business activity.
LA County's March 19 "Safer at Home" Order stated that it did not apply to "construction of housing (in particular affordable housing or housing for individuals experiencing homelessness)" meaning that construction was viewed as an essential business activity and could continue (with appropriate safeguards) even under the COVID-19 pandemic.    However, a paragraph in the order also stated that it "does not supersede any stricter limitation imposed by a local public entity within the LA County Public Health Jurisdiction."
Well, that's all our City Council needed because, while they're not adept at nuanced thinking, they sure do know how to impose "stricter limitations" by banning things (see Gee, What Can We Ban This Week?). 
And that's what Council did. 
By a 4-0 vote (Suzanne Hadley was unavailable to register her vote), they re-characterized an essential business activity, residential construction, as non-essential and banned it outright without bothering to consider the wide-ranging economic ramifications of such a ban on our community.
Almost immediately afterwards, a statewide order from Governor Newsom deemed housing construction an essential function and not subject to closure.
We almost can't believe we're saying this but the Governor actually got this one right; the Manhattan Beach City Council got it wrong.  
Not that Council didn't have the best of intentions but, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Fortunately, the Council did follow up with some sensible new ordinances making it a crime punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail for violating social distancing and anti-hoarding requirements.  
[Aside:  Isn't it interesting that you can now be penalized more for improper social distancing than you can for heroin or opioid possession, identity fraud, gun theft or stealing less than $950 from, say, Target, according to Prop 47.  But we digress.]
For residential construction, we would have even suggested taking it a step further, mandating some form of hand-sanitizing equipment or hand-cleaning protocol on all development sites (yes, we know portable hand sanitizers are hard to come by these days), perhaps mandatory face masks and gloves as well.  We understand that some of these protective measures are currently under consideration by Council.
Our advice to Council - there are going to be continuing complaints about construction activity from the same people that didn't like construction activity before the advent of COVID-19.  Don't panic, take a reasoned and measured approach, such as the above social distancing ordinance demonstrates.
As Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, try to "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you."

This entry was posted under Smell The Coffee, Manhattan Beach, and New Construction.