With concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, the Oakland City Council began taking steps toward protecting tenants possibly impacted by the pandemic, in addition, to urging the Alameda County Superior Court to place a pause on eviction and defaults.
City officials also formally ratified, during a special meeting on Thursday morning, a local health emergency that was declared by City Administrator Sabrina Landreth on Monday. All council and committee meetings in Oakland will be cancelled until April 7. The council had canceled last Tuesday’s slate of committee hearings out of concern over the coronavirus.
Oakland’s move to protect renters follows a similar proposal in San Francisco. Hayward will also discuss the same moratorium on Mar. 17.
“It’s important for the city to make sure that our Oakland tenants can stay in their homes during this public health emergency,” Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas said before moving to schedule the proposed resolution for the April 7 council meeting, which will start at 3 p.m., instead, of the typical 5:30 p.m. start time.
Bas’ proposed legislation would amend the city’s just cause ordinance to include a moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent during the coronavirus outbreak. Tenants must demonstrate their inability to pay rent in a timely manner is due to the pandemic, she added.
“We need a moratorium on all evictions, not just encampments, but for tenants as well,” said John Jones III, a well-known Oakland community advocate. “We cannot destabilize people at a time when we’re dealing with a crisis that is rampant, that is spreading fear around the globe.”
A number of public speakers on Thursday morning strongly urged the city council to intervene for renters who may face eviction due to the virus. The council agreed, and unanimously approved sending a correspondence to the court, in addition, to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
Landreth’s declaration of local health emergency last Monday could only be in effect for seven days, Oakland Assistant City Administrator Ed Reiskin said, necessitating full ratification by the city council. Thursday’s move continues the local health emergency for up to 60 days, and can be extended later by the council.
“For the benefit of the public, I want folks to be assured that this ratification of this emergency should not be cause for panic but should be cause for reassurance,” Reiskin said.
By formally declaring a local health emergency the city can draw on state and federal emergency funding related to the coronavirus, while also positioning itself to recover other expenses incurred the city, Reiskin said.
As fears about the health and welfare of residents is growing at a rapid clip, Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan urged for the city and county to look further down the road and begin searches for potential properties that could potentially be used as staging areas for larger influxes of infected residents, such as empty buildings, vacant hotels and dorms. Kaplan noted the Kaiser Convention Center at Lake Merritt was used for this purpose during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.