SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is anticipating big changes as some of the city’s crucial services resume operations. The shutdown backlogged a lot of city agencies and now they’re playing catch up.
In his weekly press conference Tuesday morning, he provided an update on the city’s coronavirus response. Johnson focused on details of Savannah’s reopening plan as it continues to move forward.
Part of that, he says, should aim to help residents facing eviction cases due to COVID-19.
“I don’t think during this time people just said, ‘I don’t want to pay rent,’ but if you have a family that hasn’t had income for quite some time, that is still waiting for unemployment money to come in, or has had unexpected expenses due to this situation, I just hope that they understand sometimes people need a little extra time,” Johnson said.
He is calling on attorneys to volunteer with Georgia Legal Services, offering free training.
“We need our area attorneys to use your affluence and your influence,” Johnson said.
Attorney Bill Broker with Georgia Legal Services says representation is vital.
“We need attorneys to work with folks to help them understand what the dispostionary process is all about,” said Broker. “Statistics have shown that people are much more successful at maintaining their homes if they have an attorney and representation.”
View Tuesday’s full press conference below.
Johnson said regular residential sanitation services will now resume, meaning trash, recycling and yard waste will be picked up on their regular schedule.
Inside of city buildings, face masks must be worn, and employees will be required to get their temperature taken upon arrival. If a visitor does not have a mask, one will be provided, Johnson said.
The mayor said he was pleased to see many people wearing face coverings this weekend, including in the crowd of demonstrators on Sunday.
Johnson also took a moment to remind the public that bars and nightclubs across the state were allowed to open Monday. He encouraged social distancing and handwashing.
“If you go, please remember we are still in a pandemic,” Johnson said.
The mayor announced a handful of items recently approved by Savannah’s City Council, including a new joint development project that he says will create “good-paying jobs” in our community. The City will offer job training scholarships with Savannah Technical College for Savannah residents in relation to the coming development.
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The City also recently approved a land lease for the arena parking lot. Johnson said it will save the city over $1.6 million. Savannah already has a lease on the arena parking lot, but the new one extends it and, “drops the cost of the lease, plus it adds taxes to be paid by the owners,” Johnson said.
City Council will also now be taking general requests for proposals about what to do with the property known as “the fairgrounds.” Requests will be accepted starting this week.
Johnson then discussed the Savannah First initiative aimed to help local businesses get back on their feet.
“This creates an opportunity for our money to be recycled locally,” Johnson said about the initiative. Businesses interested in participating must be local, certified, capable and qualified, the mayor said.
Johnson said the City has also created new pathways for minority and woman-owned businesses to get certified. To learn more about the Savannah First initiative, visit here.
Along with City buildings and businesses, Chatham County Courts will reopen soon. The current judicial emergency ends June 12, and courts will reopen on June 15.
The mayor again encouraged early voting, as this is the last week to do so. He also urged Savannahians to fill out their 2020 Census. He said Savannah is at 50.4% complete, which is lower than many other Georgia cities.
“Come on y’all,” Johnson said.
The mayor reminded the public that hurricane season is coming, and asked individuals to have a plan for themselves and their families.
Johnson wrapped up his prepared remarks calling on the community to wear orange on Friday in honor of gun violence victims across the country and in Savannah. He asked that participants share their photos and use the hashtag #SavannahStrong on social media.
“Gun violence is still unacceptable in our community,” Johnson said. “Nothing would please me more than if we’re able to go this entire summer and say we had not one incident, not one life was lost, not one mother was crying, not another child has lost their parent due to a gun violence incident.”