City Says it Still Watches Construction Amid Health Concerns

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A commercial storefront at Myrtle Street and North Coast Highway was under construction April 15 during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach issued guidelines earlier this month to contractors working local construction sites, stopping short of a shutdown on residential construction ordered in six Bay Area counties.

Like all essential employees, construction contractors and subcontractors were ordered last week to cover faces while in public and in private places of business.

“The City of Laguna Beach is following the Governor’s directives which include Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction) as part of the State’s Essential Workforce,” Community Development Director Marc Wiener wrote in an email.

Guidance published by state officials about Gov. Gov Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order exempts construction workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects. The guidance encompasses plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and material sources for construction sites.

Laguna Beach emailed an April 1 letter to about 70 area contractors, recommending best practices for building during the coronavirus pandemic, Wiener said. City staffers have also been distributing it to builders at construction sites.

“We ask that builders be considerate of neighbors during this time while they are required to stay at home,” the city’s later states.

City staff made the following requests of local contractors:

  • Move cutting or grinding equipment to an inside or enclosed area to minimize both dust and noise.
  • Air compressors and generators shall be in an enclosed area to keep the noise to a minimum.
  • Workers should keep a six-foot distance from each other at all times and wear protective masks and gloves when possible.
  • Try to keep any construction work away from property lines as much as possible.
  • Keep the workmen from gathering in groups while on the job site at lunch breaks or before and after work.
  • Delay starting any loud equipment until later in the morning.

City building inspectors are still conducting in-person inspections and will monitor construction sites for compliance, Wiener wrote in an email. Code enforcement officers are assisting with this effort.

For construction projects related to existing residential homes, building inspectors are using all mobile technology such as FaceTime, Skype, and photos to conduct and complete the inspections remotely, Wiener said.

Laguna Beach employs two code enforcement officers, a code enforcement supervisor, three building inspectors, and one senior building inspector, according to its employee directory. There are 1,137 active projects in Laguna Beach, city staffers reported late Thursday.

City officials have received complaints from neighbors arguing that construction, particularly for aesthetic home remodels, is not an essential service and should be temporarily banned.

Home builders claim that entertaining such an extreme measure would make the region’s housing shortage worse and threaten the livelihood of construction industry employees and vendors.

“Using a pandemic to try to halt construction doesn’t seem like a very fair strategy I think,” Steve La Motte, executive officer for the Building Industry Association’s Orange County chapter. “We’re trying to get through this economic downturn with as little damage as possible.”

Like any other essential business, public health and safety come down to builders abiding by these regulations, as best as possible, whenever or the job, La Motte said.

“Shutting down construction or any step in the construction process is going to be detrimental to the construction industry,” he said. “It would be like shutting down the restaurant industry and not allowing them to do takeout.”

The Building Industry Association of Southern California includes about 1,100 member companies employing around 100,000 employees, La Motte said.

Anyone with questions or concerns about city orders relating to COVID-19 should call the Laguna Beach Police Department’s non-emergency number at 949-497-0701.

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