City councilmembers in Lancaster, California, unanimously approved a symbolic “vote of no confidence” of Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday, and reportedly decided to eventually break away from the agency she heads and form a new independent department.
Dr. Ferrer has faced harsh criticism from some local politicians, business owners, and many of the more than ten million people who live in the nation’s most populous county directly affected by her public health orders. She is often mocked for not having a medical degree.
“What I don’t want our city to do is to make decisions based upon anything other than what’s supported by the research and the people most knowledgeable about this – which I would suggest to you is not Barbara Ferrer,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.
The L.A. Times reports that Parris called a special city council meeting and “blamed the city’s 77 coronavirus-related deaths on a failure of county leaders to enforce a mask mandate or properly educate people about the pandemic.” Lancaster has approximately 158,000 residents and is about a 70-mile drive from L.A.
Elected leaders representing several cities throughout the county recently began publicly discussing splitting off from the public health department, saying local data should determine local COVID-19 restrictions. Many have accused L.A. Public Health of having a “one-size fits all” strategy. There are more than 88 cities in the county, but those communities are spread out over a vast territory and are not monolithic.
As the L.A. Times reports:
(Mayor Parris) called the county Department of Public Health too big and “dysfunctional.” The city could maneuver faster on its own to secure resources and make necessary changes, he said.
But despite his displeasure and the council’s unanimous vote, it could be months before a public health agency like the one Parris proposed – possibly as a joint effort with neighboring cities such as Palmdale – would be operating. He acknowledged that the coronavirus would probably be long gone by the time Lancaster formed its own agency. Still, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inefficiencies in the county’s public health response and underscored a need for the city to take care of its own.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge instructed county health officials to bring forth scientific evidence to support a ban on outdoor dining at restaurants to an upcoming hearing on Tuesday. They had been unable to provide such data when pressed by the powerful L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Still, the body voted 3-2 to move forward with the order.
Dozens of demonstrators showed up outside Ferrer’s home last weekend to protest a new round of restrictions that took effect on Monday.
On Tuesday, Beverly Hills City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the county’s outdoor dining ban, demanding the Board of Sups repeal the directive. Councilmember Lili Bosse said officials were “exploring legal action” and considering creating a local health department.
The Times reported that Dr. Ferrer’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment regarding the action taken Thursday by Lancaster lawmakers. Mayor Parris told the outlet the city felt “betrayed” by her decisions.
“What we’re about to do may not have an effect on her but, nonetheless, we’ve never had to do it to somebody before,” he said. “Without this expression of our contempt, and that’s really what it is, nothing’s about to change. … In my opinion, she failed.”
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