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Construction Sites Build Social Distancing

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER Staff Reporter In the midst of a pandemic, construction projects continue to move forward, unlike hard-hit states New York and Washington, which have shut down the building trades. “Construction in New York is very different than construction in California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during one of his lunchtime news briefings in late March, in response to a journalist’s question. “I am satisfied with the (construction industry) guidance (and baselines) established during the virus situation.” Newsom added that he had consulted with and trusts the wisdom of Robbie Hunter, president of State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “We are not New York and we are doing everything to flatten the curve,” Newsom said. That said, the city of Los Angeles, which includes portions of the San Fernando Valley, has outlined how construction should look during this precarious period. Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety posted guidelines March 31 on its website. “Construction industry employers shall develop a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control plan, which includes control measures such as social distancing; symptom checking; hygiene; decontamination procedures, and training,” a statement on the webpage said. Highlights of the construction guidelines include: maintaining a minimum 6 feet between workers; no gatherings of any size, and anytime two or more people must meet, ensure a minimum 6 feet of separation; appropriate personal protective equipment; identification of “choke points” and “high-risk areas” where workers are forced to stand together, such as hallways, hoists and elevators, break areas, and buses, and control them so social distancing is maintained; minimum interactions when picking up or delivering equipment or materials; staggering the trades as necessary to reduce density and maintain social distancing; and discouragement of workers using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, work tools and equipment. Other rules issued by LADBS include posting required hygienic practices around the workplace; requiring anyone on the project to stay home if they are sick; and insisting that employees must inform their supervisor if they have a sick family member at home with COVID-19. Venturing forth Mark Fergus, with Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors — which promotes and enforces the highest professional qualifications and standards in the development and management of land, real estate, construction and infrastructure — serves as the 133,000-member international trade association’s local representative. Fergus, regional vice president of Cumming, a Los Angeles-based project management and cost consulting firm, said he believes that as long as sites comply with guidance, things should go well. “People are taking extreme measures,” Fergus told the Business Journal. “People are really being active in terms of maintaining social distancing. Even if you think about it logically, getting a site, you can’t move your crews as easily as before. Everybody on site needs to wear the category 1 mask.” Project managers in the Valley and Ventura County appear to be taking heed to the precautions. John Chamberlain, a spokesman for Limoneira Co., which is constructing a massive master-planned community in the company’s native Santa Paula, told the Business Journal via email: “Limoneira is practicing social distancing and many people are working from home. Our Human Resource Department is consistently sending updates regarding the Covid-19 virus.” Shawn Evenhaim, chief executive of Canoga Park-based California Home Builders, which is currently building several Q residential complexes at Warner Center, told the Business Journal: “Construction is still going forward at full speed. As all companies, we are taking all steps we can to protect our employees.” Another construction project in Woodland Hills is The Variel, Dallas-based developer South Bay Partners’ 120,000-square-foot senior living complex at 6233 N. Variel Ave. The eight-story building will include 336 units with a completion date in late 2021. Infection point Construction sites are a cause for concern. On March 30, Los Angeles Times reported that at the Inglewood construction site of SoFi Stadium, the $5 billion future home of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers that was to launch with a Taylor Swift concert in July, an unidentified worker tested positive for COVID-19 – even as an estimated 3,000 people continued working on the project. Amid Newsom’s March 19 orders for Californians to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many construction workers continue to ply away at their jobs, and a few anonymous workers at the SoFi Stadium site told the Times that they feared losing their jobs by going home. The SoFi worker diagnosed with COVID-19 is recovering, according to Turner-AECOM Hunt, the joint venture overseeing SoFi construction. The developer maintains that the worker had not entered the stadium itself. The company added that it had disinfected equipment used by the worker, his coworkers were notified and those in close contact with the worker are currently under self-quarantine. Marketing and Communications Manager Fawn Radmanich at PCL, a Glendale-based firm that is one of the contractors involved in the 298-acre Inglewood So-Fi Stadium build, told the Business Journal that PCL employees on construction sites are “practicing physical distancing and stretching those virtual meeting muscles.” Shifting gears In the weeks to come, Fergus said that many developers are going to shift their attention. “We haven’t seen active sites shutting down at this time,” Fergus said. “Developers are going through the pre-construction design aspects of the projects.” City officials are still active in response to plans and permits, Fergus added, although the timeline on projects getting approvals may lag as certain staffers work from home. On March 31, L.A. City Planning Director Vince Bertoni issued a statement addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. “From modified work programs and telecommuting to moving outreach online, City Planning has taken necessary steps to protect public health as we continue to serve Los Angeles,” Bertoni said in the statement. “At the same time, we are also exploring every option to keep the economy of the city going for the benefit of working Angelenos and everyone affected by the housing shortage. That’s why we are continuing to process project applications and accept appeal applications through the new drop-off box system in place at our Development Services Centers.” That said, Bertoni noted that operations of his department will hinge on the latest guidance from the Mayor’s Office, Los Angeles County Public Health and other agencies. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that city inspectors will visit job sites to ensure safety precautions are followed. “We will not be shy about shutting down construction sites that do not comply,” Garcetti said in a March 29 statement.

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