Supervisors order COVID-19 moratorium on evictions, rent control

By Daniel Borsuk

Contra Costa County residential and commercial tenants clobbered from COVID-19 financial impacts might be on the receiving end of some monetary relief as county supervisors requested Assistant County Counsel Mary Ann Mason on Tuesday to draft an emergency ordinance that could deliver rent and eviction moratoria.

Supervisors will meet at a special Tuesday, April 21 afternoon meeting to potentially act on a countywide rent control and eviction moratorium ordinance modeled after one the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors adopted recently.

About 70 persons submitted written comments asking supervisors meeting remotely via teleconference to adopt a moratoria ordinance. Each comment was read into the record.

Amelia Hernandez, a single mother who rents a room in a San Pablo house, requested that supervisors adopt a moratoria ordinance in order to “protect all tenants like her who has seen her work cut to 3 days a week.”

Mark Mahone told supervisors “the best solution is a countywide solution” citing that only a few Contra Costa cities have addressed moratoria on evictions and rent. Those cities are Antioch, Concord, Richmond, and Pittsburg.

District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who two weeks ago initiated the request to have the board adopt a moratoria ordinance, recommended the Santa Clara County ordinance because it also best addresses the needs of citizens and property owners in Contra Costa County.

In a comment on Facebook, during the meeting, explaining his support for the moratorium, Gioia wrote “What I said and the majority of the Board agreed was that only during this health emergency, an owner cannot evict a tenant who is paying their rent just so the owner can leave the unit vacant. Think about that – you want a tenant who is paying rent evicted during this crisis and leave the unit unoccupied? I stand by my and the Board majority’s decision! The owner can evict if the owner and immediate family wants to move back in or for a health and safety reason.”

The Santa Clara County moratoria on evictions applies countywide. Residential evictions are prohibited if due to nonpayment of rent caused by COVID-19 until May 31, 2020 unless extended. Small business evictions are prohibited only if due to nonpayment of rent caused by COVID-19 Until May 31, 2020. The Santa Clara ordinance includes a 120-day grace period from the expiration of the ordinance. The ordinance bans “no fault” evictions. The Santa Clara ordinance does not have a rent freeze provision, except for Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act exemption cases.

Supervisors said cities like Antioch, Concord, Richmond and Pittsburg that already have rent and eviction moratoria in place will have those moratoria honored if and when a county ordinance that is adopted.

“Ordinarily I’m not in favor of moratoria,” said board chair Candace Andersen of Danville. “but I realize we have a high number of unemployed. I know we need to find ways to help people reenter the economy.”

“I feel this should be countywide for cities that don’t have ordinances in place,” said District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg. “I am also concerned what will happen when this moratoria ordinance is lifted.”

In the meantime, Contra Costa County Health Director Anna Roth reported since the supervisors last met two weeks ago, the number of persons stricken with COVID-19 symptoms has risen from 187 cases to 552 cases and the number of deaths has quadrupled from 3 to 12 deaths.

County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said the county along with efforts of John Muir and Kaiser Permanente have stepped up training at county nursing home facilities to combat the spread of COVID-19 infections among the population’s most vulnerable, senior citizens.

In addition, the county health officials have begun to move the homeless into 300 hotel rooms that the county has bought mostly in the Richmond area, Dr. Farnitano reported.

Approve Executive Order to Conduct November Election by Mail

Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution presented by County Clerk-Recorder Deborah Cooper to conduct the November election only by mail. The board resolution in coordination with other counties will request Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue an Executive Order directing that the November 2020 election be conducted by mail.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency will be in place for an indefinite period, County Clerk-Recorder Cooper said the county would best serve the voting needs of its citizens and save the county thousands of dollars.

“Eliminating polling places, poll workers and their training, election day ballots, and voting supplies would provide significant costs savings in the vicinity of $320,000,” Cooper wrote in her letter to supervisors. “Increased vote-by-mail costs, including postage, and processing time, are estimated to be $360,000.”

Cooper wrote: “Many of our polling places and volunteers have indicated that they will not serve in November due to the virus and the state of emergency. On March 3, 2020, over 200 volunteers failed to show up to work at the polls. Experts indicate that it is likely that the virus will remain active or re-emerge this fall during the election season posing a persistent risk to citizens.”

“Our request is that the Board, possibly in coordination with other counties, pass a resolution requesting the Governor to issue an Executive Order substantively the same as the March 20, 2020 order directing the election to be conducted by mail, “wrote Cooper.

So Far, No Deaths in County Jails

Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston reported that since the board of supervisors passed a state of emergency on March 17, there has not been one reported COVID-19 related death in county jails.

“Eighty-nine percent of the prisoners are in single cells to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the sheriff said.

Among those being held for serious offenses are murder, 164; children underage, 98; rape, 22; robbery, 108; burglary, 101; and deadly weapon, 186, the sheriff reported.

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