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Portantino: ‘Every Idea’ on the Table for Recovery

In a recent public appearance — well, virtual public appearance — state Sen. Anthony Portantino offered a glimpse at what reopening California is slated to look like and how Sacramento is trying to prepare for it.
One of the few crystal clear details is that it’s going to be expensive. The state senator noted how on March 16 alone, state lawmakers appropriated through SB89 $1 billion in general fund dollars for the state’s disaster response to the COVID-19 pandemic and added in another $1.4 billion from the existing disaster response line item. Another item, SB117, applied similar relief to the state’s school districts that largely shut doors in March.
“Those things we put in place to give the governor the ability to give some stability to our school districts and to help the healthcare infrastructure in California,” Portantino said via Zoom last week.
With budget season looming, Portantino, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat whose district includes Glendale, said the state was going to implement a “workload budget” this year largely in observance of diminished economic activity from the pandemic.
“Basically, what it takes to run the state,” he explained. “No new programs. No new expansion. We’re going to start with sort of a minimum workload budget and then work off of that subsequent to its arrival on our desk right up into the June 15 deadline.”
Moving forward, Portantino added he was open to ideas for constituents as he and other senators and task force members worked toward stimulus and recovery plans, mentioning that a Glendale City Council member recently advocated relief for landlords whose tenants cannot afford rent because of the pandemic.
“Right now, every idea is on the table,” Portantino said. “There is going to be an economic recovery plan. There’s going to be some changes in life, whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to be. I can’t tell you what that’s going to look like yet, because there is so much brainstorming going on.”
“New normal” was right. Portantino was speaking from his home, using the Zoom app to conference into a South Pasadena City Council meeting at their request. City officials there — also videoing in remotely — eagerly listened for updates from the state level through audio glitches and the occasional input from Portantino’s dog.
When Portantino spoke last week, nearly 3 million Californians had filed for unemployment. The federal government was unrolling its second round of stimulus funding that targeted small businesses and companies. Gov. Gavin Newsom has convened two task forces — one on general pandemic response and the other on economic recovery — which meet routinely with the senate and other officials. Mandatory shutdowns already are disrupting local economies heavily dependent on sales and use tax income to fund their governments.
“Obviously the impact to the individual is great, but we have to make sure that institutions that employ the individuals — like cities, like school districts — also are part of the economic recovery,” Portantino said. “One of the things we’ve brought up during these meetings is looking at some regional financing options, giving cities the ability to pool with other cities — maybe along with the [Council of Governments] — and do some regional borrowing, regional agreements, regional bond sales. Nothing has been finalized yet, but I’m just throwing out some of the brainstorming that’s been coming through this committee that we’ve been working on. Obviously, small cities would benefit from an economy of scale working regionally on some of the financial benefits.”
Newsom also has outlined a four-stage plan to gradually reopen the state from its restrictions: continue to expand testing and ensure protection for essential workers; gradually open low-risk workplaces and public spaces with certain restrictions; gradually open up high-risk workplaces and public spaces with restrictions; and, finally, lift the “Safer at Home” directive.
“Stage four really relies on how the science unfolds over the coming months,” Portantino said. “The governor has us in stage one. We’re hoping to get to stage two I think by the end of the month, but that has not been declared.”
The longtime official added he was trying to improve communication from the state through language barriers, specifically aiming to attach a local Armenian nonprofit group to the state Department of Social Services to provide Eastern and Western Armenian translation, as well as Farsi and Arabic, on documents from the state.
“It’s been a challenge. I wish they were doing better,” he said. “The city is doing things, but from OES and some of the documents and some of the implementation, it’s been a challenge [to get it done].”

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