The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to draft an urgency ordinance that addresses evictions, utility shut-offs, employee sanitation measures and a potential economic relief package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The emergency ordinance, to be drafted by the city attorney, will establish a moratorium on all evictions for 30 days or as long as Long Beach, Los Angeles County or the State of California have active emergency proclamations related to COVID-19. The ordinance will also include a prohibition on late fees during this period.
At the front of the Council Chambers, Mayor Robert Garcia sat alone, joined by the voices of his fellow councilmembers via teleconference. Three members of the public and several journalists sat in chairs separated yards apart. Separated by chairs with pink signs stating “not available,” the chambers reinforced a form of mandatory social distancing.
There are eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Long Beach as of March 17. The virus spreads easily and sustainably within communities, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Citizens have been encouraged by the city to practice social distancing and self-quarantine when necessary.
Despite the threat of community spread, Councilmember Jeannine Pearce shared that in her district, 13 tenants in one building were served eviction notices. She advocated for a full moratorium on evictions.
“It’s really heartbreaking when I know so many families in my district are going to be out on the street for no reason of their own,” Pearce said. “Not because they couldn’t pay, not because they were a nuisance tenant, but that we’re allowing people to get kicked out in the middle of a crisis when we’re all trying to figure out how to feed our families. Period.”
Evictions have been a hotly contested topic in city council this year. In February, the council approved an urgency ordinance that banned no-fault evictions on the premise of substantial remodel without permits. Before this ordinance, Long Beach tenants faced mass evictions through a loophole in a state housing bill.
Now, just weeks after that ordinance was passed, tenants are being evicted in the midst of a global health crisis.
“Our federal government, the people on top, have failed us,” gallery owner Senay Kenfe said during public comment. “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt, evil to even contemplate, putting people up in this moment.”
Maria Lopez, director of the housing advocacy group Housing Long Beach, worried that landlords wouldn’t be incentivized to maintain social isolation measures without a law in place.
“There’s no worry on the landlord’s side to make sure that tenants can stay in self-isolation or quarantine with their families,” Lopez said. “Not only are vulnerable families right now, in this time of need, saying, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of stuff going on,’ but they’re also receiving eviction notices.”
Property owner Mike Richardson echoed Lopez’s sentiment during public comment.
“It’s been very clear at public meetings that tenants have difficult times paying rent,” Richardson said. “What are tenants going to do if they have to pay back three or four month’s rent by a certain date, if they’re having a tough time going month-to-month to begin with?”
With many practicing social distancing, citizens are also facing job loss as many businesses in Long Beach shut down.
Yesterday, Health and Human Services announced a temporary prohibition on group events and gatherings, including closures of many businesses. Bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food, gyms, movie theaters, live performance venues, bowling alleys and arcades were all included in the order. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open.
In light of these actions, councilmembers also requested that the city manager, city attorney and all relevant departments evaluate the feasibility of implementing an economic relief package for working families and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Garcia urged the public to remember that the city would continue to look towards the state and federal government for economic stimulus packages.
The council also requested that the city manager work with the Department of Energy Resources, the Water Department and investor-owned utilities to suspend utility shutoffs for a minimum of 30 days or until the emergency proclamations are no longer in effect.
It also requested that the city manager work with the city attorney to establish an ordinance during the declaration of emergency requiring all airport, convention center and hotel employers to allow all employees to wash their hands every 30 minutes to limit community transmission.
“Right now, we are ahead of the curve,” Councilmember Mary Zendejas said. “We need to continue to be ahead of the curve.”
The next City Council meeting will take place via teleconference on Tuesday, March 24.