Laguna Beach provides COVID-19 relief to hotels, reworks other grant programs

To help hotels struggling during the pandemic, Laguna Beach city officials Tuesday allocated $600,000 in COVID-19 relief funding for a program that would allow hoteliers in good standing to recover a portion of the taxes they pay to the city.

Hotels can apply to recover up to 50% of transient occupancy tax paid to the city for the fourth quarter, from October to December. Grants will range from $5,000 to $100,000.

Supporters of the hotel grant program called it a “jump-start” to aid the hospitality industry in its recovery efforts.

“These proposals are incredibly generous, and it means a lot to us,” Kurt Bjorkman, general manager of the Ranch at Laguna Beach, said. “It means a lot to the hospitality community.

“We’re all in survival mode, and each and every one of us need this. The grant is very important, and we all look forward to being back and stronger than ever in supporting our Laguna Beach community.”

City staff said that there were four hotels that collected more transient occupancy tax from April to December than they did over the same period in 2019. The Laguna Beach City Council decided to include those hotels in the grant program at the minimum amount of $5,000.

Short-term lodging units are not eligible for the program.

Additional modifications were made to the LB Cares program that was approved on Dec. 22, when the council appropriated $650,000 for local restaurants and bars and $200,000 for city retail businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

After the second deadline for restaurants and bars to apply for aid passed on Jan. 19, city staff reported that $240,000 of available LB Cares funds remained unspent. The council directed staff to take $116,000 of the remaining funds to award grants to 58 qualified retail businesses that had yet to be given one because the previous funding limit had been surpassed.

The council also approved the use of $60,000 of the remaining restaurant and bar allocation to address a deficit in the cultural arts grant funding. The remaining balance of $64,000 is to be used to work with LB Cares program applicants that are currently unqualified provided they come into compliance with eligibility requirements and correct submission errors that led to disqualification in the first round of applications.

“I think it makes sense to reallocate the funds and try to qualify those businesses that made mistakes on their application,” Councilman George Weiss said.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman and Weiss had voiced concerns at the Dec. 22 meeting that economic relief should also be made available to struggling residents, which led to the council initially agreeing to a matching grant program of up to $300,000.

With demand exceeding donations made to the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, which is handling the dispersal of the funds, city staff recommended that $100,000 be made available immediately as a one-time donation.

The plan is to provide $500 to qualified applicants. Laguna Beach Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said the COVID-19 relief program has received more than 900 applicants.

“I support making a portion of this a donation,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said as the council reviewed COVID-19 relief items individually. “I would just suggest we split it in half and do [$150,000] as a donation and [the balance] as a matching [grant], so that we can get some money out the door.

“We’re getting money out the door to all the businesses, and I think we’re likely to approve something to the hotels, so I would like to also get some money out the door quickly to residents and unemployed individuals while the matching effort is ongoing.”

The council agreed to make a $150,000 donation to the Laguna Beach Community Foundation to support residents and local workers impacted by the pandemic. The remaining $150,000 continues to be set aside as a matching grant to community donations.

Orange County reported 71 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in data provided Wednesday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The death toll for the county during the pandemic climbed to 2,839. There were also 1,038 new cases reported, taking the cumulative case count to 227,021.

Hospitalizations because of the virus are at 1,639, with 448 of those patients being cared for in intensive care units. Additionally, there have been 14,230 tests reported within the last day, bringing the total number of tests administered to 2,602,097.

The healthcare agency estimates that 167,573 people in the county have made a recovery after contracting the virus.

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 41,131 cases; 506 deaths
  • Anaheim: 38,006 cases; 548 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 9,265 cases; 137 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 7,922 cases; 78 deaths
  • Irvine: 8,997 cases; 44 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 3,229 cases; 48 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 3,043 cases; 45 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 708 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 22,991 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 31,568 cases; five deaths
  • 25 to 34: 45,778 cases; 32 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 35,609 cases; 57 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 36,493 cases; 191 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 28,430 cases; 378 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 14,135 cases; 544 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 7,078 cases; 654 deaths
  • 85 and older: 4,790 cases; 977 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc. Information on the COVID-19 vaccine in Orange County can be found at https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-vaccine-resources.

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