Solvang OKs food security programs, agrees to lobby state for appropriate reopening plan

Solvang OKs food security programs, agrees to lobby state for appropriate reopening plan

Solvang City Council members approved two food security programs Monday to address the growing need of its senior population and workers unemployed by COVID-19 closures.

The council also agreed to lobby the state to allow for a reopening program that would more closely reflect Santa Ynez Valley’s patient statistics.

While the state’s phased opening program hinges on countywide statistics, Solvang joined the communities of Lompoc and Santa Maria, 35th District Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and Santa Barbara County 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam in noting an outbreak at the Lompoc federal prison complex skews the county’s numbers.

Acting City Manager Xenia Bradford noted 893 of the county’s cases are in the prison while the Santa Ynez Valley is holding at seven cases since the inception of tracking.

“There’s no one dying,” Councilman Chris Djernaes said.

In its letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom drafted from a model by League of California Cities, Solvang pushed for direct funding for city programs by state and federal relief efforts. Currently, Bradford said, CARES Act funding supports communities with populations of more than 500,000 people. That leaves ineligible the entire population of Santa Barbara County, numbering just somewhere short of 450,000.

Bradford reiterated that Solvang, which depends heavily on tourist-driven taxes, is losing $500,000 in revenue each month of the shutdown. She estimated the city will lose $2 million in income during the current budget year and forecast another $2 million loss in the next fiscal year on the current trajectory. She noted the city would also be impacted by its added expense of food distribution and small business support programs.

Pressing on, the council voted unanimously to provide up to $40,000 in groceries for community nonprofits already providing distribution, including People Helping People, senior centers, Meals on Wheels programs and others. The city could see reimbursement from FEMA for that outflow which could carry these programs through another month.

Local caterer Maili Halme, who spoke on behalf of the myriad distribution programs, said many centers initially reached out to hospitality and restaurant workers pressed out of service. The programs have since been expanded to include all workers in need.

Distribution has risen to include about 700 families with family sizes averaging six members in the household with many up to 12 in a household.

The weekly cost of distribution is $12.70 per family thanks to an entirely unpaid volunteer staff and produce purchased at wholesale prices. In addition, IDK Events has donated the use of one of its refrigerated trailers to expand the storage and distribution capability of those programs.

“I think we definitely have a pretty scary need out there … It’s great to see the community come together, but it’s also exceptionally disheartening to watch that need there,” Mayor Ryan Toussaint said.

The council also voted 4-1 with Councilwoman Karen Waite dissenting to pursue the California Great Plates Delivered Program, which could provide up to 150 seniors three meals daily provided by local restaurants.

Half a dozen local restaurants expressed interest in partnering with the city on the program, which could channel state and federal funds to their Solvang kitchens. The city will partner with People Helping People to enroll qualifying seniors and administer the program at an estimated cost of up to $70,000 per week at full enrollment. Most of those funds would be recouped from FEMA (75%) and the state (19%) with Solvang footing the remaining 6% of the bill.

Waite said she had received an influx of text messages and emails from local nonprofits interested in helping and preferred to reach out to those cost-free offers.

Djernaes also balked at the cost, wondering if seniors couldn’t be more cost-effectively served through existing food bank programs. Councilman Daniel Johnson noted the Great Plates program would provide for seniors while also supporting much-needed restaurant businesses.

The council funded the program through June 10, at which point it will review the outcomes and reassess options.

In other action, the council unanimously agreed to follow through with its budgeted $105,000 agreement with Solvang Heritage Associates known more broadly as Elverhøj Museum of History and Art. The three-year contract, paid out at $35,000 per year, will be used to support the continuation of Elverhøj’s mission to collect, preserve and exhibit the history and Danish culture of Solvang and to promote the arts.

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

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