M. Terry / SFVS

Senior meals at Las Palmas Park.

Following the course set by the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles county, the City of San Fernando voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency during their council meeting Monday, March 16.

The meeting was broadcast via Facebook Live to allow residents to participate online rather than gather in the council chambers. The emergency declaration will open up the local government to apply for additional funding as it becomes available. 

City officials informed restaurants in San Fernando to close their doors for sit-down dining and like all restaurants throughout the country, only take out service will be allowed. The council also took action to close outdoor businesses including the popular San Fernando swap meet.

Businesses in San Fernando’s outdoor mall are still open but city officials said that may change in the near future.

Councilmembers expressed their regret for the financial impact the closures will cause business owners and referred to them as “the backbone of the community.” They encouraged residents to still support their local restaurants by ordering take-out.

City officials offered their website and social media platforms to help businesses get their information out to the public.

With the closure of parks and the local senior center, the City of San Fernando handed out its first “to go” lunch meals to seniors on Tuesday. Seniors were given two ready-to-go meals and three frozen meals.

Julian Venegas, director of Recreation and Community Services, confirmed that during the COVID-19 state of emergency, seniors can pick up the five meals on Tuesdays between 10-11 a.m. at Las Palmas Park.

The seniors who received meals this week were already enrolled in the program but Venegas said additional seniors can make arrangements to pick up meals by calling the park at (818) 898-7340, and don’t have to live in the City of San Fernando to receive a meal. But it’s recommended that they call to ensure that additional meals are ordered.

Seniors who “walk up” without prior notification will be given a meal only if there are extra meals on hand.

During the council meeting, City officials opted not to take a position on placing a moratorium on evictions, but did commit to insuring that no resident — regardless of payment — would have their water services turned off during this state of emergency.

“We aren’t trying to put anyone into a financial hardship. The late fees will be waived and we aren’t shutting off anyone’s water at this time. We understand that a lot of people aren’t getting paychecks for the next few weeks,” said City Manager Nick Kimball.

On Wednesday, Kimball sent a letter to area grocery stores to encourage owners to provide a window of time for elderly and special needs shoppers.

“The City of San Fernando is asking stores that sell groceries to assist in the effort to safeguard the public health by providing a dedicated time for high-risk populations such as elderly, disabled, special needs and pregnant individuals to have exclusive access to purchase food, medication and other essentials,” wrote Kimball.

However, City Councilmember Sylvia Ballin told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that the Vallarta Supermarket “was a disaster” on its first day of offering special shopping to seniors.

“Seniors stood in line at seven in the morning in the freezing cold and the store would only allow 15-20 shoppers in at a time,” Ballin said. “The line was all the way down to the Rite Aid.”

Ballin pointed out that seniors stood shoulder-to-shoulder waiting in line. “So if the mindset was to reduce the number of shoppers for ‘social distancing,’ it made little sense to have people stand next to each other in line.”

She said she would be reaching out to the grocery store’s management to discuss the situation.

San Fernando Police Chief Tony Vairo noted that in addition to seniors being vulnerable for COVID-19, first responders put themselves at risk, and that the City’s field services would not be interrupted.

“The police station has sanitizer throughout the building and we’ve added a couple more [sanitizer areas]. We try to limit everyone’s exposure and have closed off some parts of the station,” Vairo said.

“We also realize that we are a police department and we have to function and provide safety. We’re also advising our field personnel to take precautions and to sanitize their vehicles before during and after [they transport]. So far, we are doing very well and we have to take as many precautions as much as we can.”

Residents are encouraged to call City Hall with any concerns or questions at (818) 898-1200.