What Pasadena’s City Leaders, Politicians and Locals Are Saying About the COVID-19 Crisis

As we shelter at home anxious about the future, politicians, business leaders and local citizens plead for solidarity in fighting the COVID-19 crisis.

The social and economic impacts of COVID-19 have transformed our world in ways we could never have imagined. There’s little traffic on formerly busy streets but plenty of parked cars. Virtual technology keeps us “busy” at home and perhaps drones will begin delivering purchases to our doorsteps after all.

The stunning and sudden change in our lives has forced people into isolation as the world battles an unrelenting foe. Everyone is affected no matter where they live. It is certainly no different in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley.

Rodger Ellis is a senior systems engineer living in Arcadia. Like many of us enduring these dangerous and deeply disconcerting times, he hopes this crisis will bring out our better nature. “Civility is not always going to come easily during a crisis, but we have to make an effort to remind ourselves that even in small ways, each of us can make a difference—even to people we don’t know well.”

City leadership too, is calling on everyone to pull together. “I would hope that people will extend themselves and be kind to their neighbors, check in if they have seniors and see if they need some help,” says Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek.

“We are all in this together,” echoes Paul Little, CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody needs to do everything they can and do their part during this crisis.”
As this is being written, California residents are hunkered down in their apartments and homes with nowhere to go. The majority of stores and tourist attractions are closed indefinitely—even beaches are off-limits.

These disruptions will of course have negative long-term effects on our economy. “It is very bad and it will have a profound impact on both businesses and individuals,” says Tornek. “Some businesses I’m afraid won’t recover.”

The Chamber shares his concern. “My fear is small locally-owned businesses all over town like IT consultants, hair and nail salons, workout places and yoga studios, restaurants, and retail stores are not going to be able to reopen again,” says Little. “I’m worried that when we come out of this, my favorite place to eat or visit may not be there.”

Plenty of stimulus will be required to spark an economic recovery. “We are working with other elected officials on the federal level to try and make sure that Washington does something for small businesses because they are going to be the most impacted,” says Tornek. “The local businesses are really going to be hurt.”

To try and soften that blow, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus and emergency appropriations package on March 27 that includes an expansion of unemployment benefits and federal business loans. Nevertheless, it’s the local government that is on the front line.
“The role of the government here is to try to maintain order, continue to deliver services, and to keep people safe,” says Tornek. “We’ve implemented a no-eviction policy for both businesses and residents, but that just kicks the can down the road.”

“All City departments are engaged and mobilized as we address the many issues that this unprecedented situation has raised,” says Steve Mermell, city manager of Pasadena. “We need residents to observe social distancing and to not hoard food and needed products. There is also a great concern for seniors and other vulnerable populations in terms of food insecurity.”

Mermell proclaimed a Local State of Emergency on March 16 that forced most commercial businesses except those offering take-out and delivery services to shut down. “We know how difficult these restrictions will be on small businesses in Pasadena, but public safety is our top priority,” he says. “This is going to take a while and while we need to move fast on a number of fronts, we need to be smart and deliberate.”
Social and Personal Impact of the Coronavirus

“We’ve already got tremendous problems with people living in isolation, and feeling isolated and alone,” says Tornek. “On a personal level, it’s very distressing. I’m usually out in the community a lot, so it’s very hard for me to make the adjustments to limit contact in my official capacity.”

“In my neighborhood, I walk my dog and talk to people, so that’s one way not to be isolated,” says Little. “Social media can isolate us from personal contact, but it can also be used to keep in touch.” Not surprisingly, streaming channels have seen a big increase in popularity during a time of quarantine. “I appreciate my Netflix subscription,” he adds.
For many people, it’s a chance to reconnect. “This virus is also a challenge for relationships, and also an opportunity to get to know each other better and appreciate each other more,” said Jochen Strack, a nurse at a local clinic and hospital. “I do have hope that some good things will come out of this crisis. There may well be a greater sense of solidarity among all of us.”

For Ellis, that means slowing down. “Try to turn off your screens every so often, and talk to your friends and family,” he says. “There’s more time for reading, gardening and push-ups since so many of us are no longer commuting in these recent weeks.”

“The self-isolation has forced families to try and coexist without all the outside distractions for the first time in a long, long time,” says Sean Hart, a nurse at an outpatient clinic in Pasadena. “I hope and pray that we are able to band together and, despite the devastation of losing some of our dear loved ones, we will learn, become stronger and more resolved when all is said and done.”
Moving Forward

“We will come out the other side here,” says Tornek. “I don’t know how long it will take but we will, and then we will reconstruct what’s been broken socially and economically, and we will get on with our lives. This is a tough moment and that’s when communities really show their stuff. Pasadena has a long history of selflessness and willingness. We’ve got 11 nonprofits here so we have a tremendous history of philanthropy, and I think that will emerge again and show that we can support each other in a trying time. At least, that is my hope.”

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