California Construction Added to Essential Infrastructure List Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
At the end of April, the State of California updated the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers list that was first issued in March in furtherance of Gov. Gavin Newsom's Stay At Home order. The updated list issued April 28, 2020, among other refinements, declares a new category of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers permitted to continue working statewide during the crisis to ensure continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, and economic and national security. The new category is entitled "Industrial, Commercial, Residential and Sheltering Facilities and Services."
Several of the newly permitted essential infrastructure functions are particularly relevant to real estate development and operations. In part, these new provisions provide assurances of continued operation for these activities. Specifically, the updated order allows the following types of jobs to operate statewide: construction workers and tradespeople working on construction, operation and maintenance of housing, commercial and mixed-use projects and similar workers necessary to maintaining residences, businesses, hospitals and senior living facilities. Operational workers, property managers and similar functions in commercial buildings, as well as leasing and tenant relations teams for both residential and commercial buildings are also deemed essential.
The expansion of statewide essential services to a broader collection of real estate-related functions underscores a regional disparity that continues to exist across the state. Much of Northern California, particularly the Bay Area counties, essentially shut down construction and development operations for all but a few narrowly defined building types as soon as stay-in-place orders were issued. Southern California jurisdictions, by contrast, permitted nearly all construction and development to continue. In the City of Los Angeles, for example, city functions such as building inspections and planning and filing operations continue apace. Although there have been some false starts and missteps related to submittal of plans and applications for city review and payment of filing fees, Los Angeles had taken evident steps to demonstrate that it remains open for real estate business. Most Bay Area jurisdictions effectively shuttered governmental inspections and staff services when quarantines were put in place, and are only now resuming those activities with varying degrees approaching business as usual. Around the time the revised state order was issued, the Bay Area counties followed suit and revised their own orders to permit construction activities as essential. In all instances statewide, permitted construction activities must follow physical distancing guidelines and make accommodations for the health and safety of employees as designated in the respective orders.
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