In the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to allow local jurisdictions to temporarily stop evicting people from their home due to non-payment, county government and local cities are starting to decide whether or not to stop using their police resources to enforce evictions.
The government’s order “authorizes local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners, slows foreclosures, and protects against utility shutoffs for Californians affected by COVID-19,” according to a press release.
In an email sent to the Outpost on March 18, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said that it will not be enforcing evictions “effective immediately until further notice.”
The City of Arcata began discussing plans to address its role in a possible eviction moratorium during the city council meeting on March 18.
It’s not yet known whether or not the city of Eureka will suspend evictions. As of deadline, an email to city manager Dean Lotter had not been returned. (See Lotter’s response below.)
During their meeting, Arcata councilmembers all called in from separate locations via a video conference. Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer told them that Arcata’s response to the virus is changing about every 15 minutes, and they are operating on a modified level of staffing. There has been a reduction in the transportation schedule and a suspension of all city public programs. Diemer said the city has already been feeling the impacts of the virus and future impacts could be “tremendous and substantial.”
“Businesses in Arcata are creative and have tried to modify to maintain even minimal income, but as we see more restrictive isolation requirements the deepening impacts on our economy are also being felt,” Diemer said.
A public commenter was at Arcata City Hall during the meeting and said people are losing faith in the federal government and are turning to state and local governments for direction and assistance. He asked what the council will do to make sure “unjust evictions” do not happen.
Councilmember Sofia Pereira responded by saying she wants a discussion about an eviction moratorium on the agenda for the next meeting or for a special session to take place regarding this matter.
“We are already seeing the business impacts and we are seeing the impacts on workers and I think that sooner we look at an eviction moratorium the better,” Pereira said. “It is something that shouldn’t wait to see how things are going to play out. Our community is going to be facing it for quite some time, so the sooner we act the better.”
Arcata Mayor Michael Winkler said the situation is obviously unprecedented and the full impact has yet to be felt. He expressed concern about seniors being able to get food and services for the homeless. He said he had concern about increasing unemployment and the best way to handle people not paying rent because of not having money, and agreed that an eviction moratorium should be an agenda item.
Councilmember Paul Pitino wondered about the legal side of a moratorium and wondered if the city even has the authority to issue such an order. At this point Arcata’s city attorney, Nancy Diamond, chimed in and said the governor issued an executive order specific to eviction and foreclosures and it provides local authorities the ability to evaluate and take measures.
“There’s many different ways we are seeing this rolled out,” Diamond said.
Diamond said some jurisdictions are providing temporary moratoria against commercial and residential units due to non-payment related to COVID-19. Some of the eviction moratoria that have been enacted throughout the state have been done through emergency ordinances and powers at the local level.
“Are we in power as a city to say to a landlord ‘We put a moratorium on all evictions,’ and we can do that even though we don’t process evictions?” Pitino asked.
Diamond said she appreciates the caution being taken by the council because city attorneys across the state are concerned about court challenges, but most of the moratoria being enacted are “very short lived.”
“It has to be a COVID response and a provable event and it is not just a blanket prohibition. But I have to say we are in completely uncharted territory,” Diamond said before she said she hopes for no legal challenges and people recognize the severity of the situation.
Pitino asked about foreclosures and what would happen to homeowners. Diamond said the governor’s executive order has taken the initiative and issued a foreclosure ban associated with COVID-19.
“Foreclosures are not something local agencies have to be worried about,” Diamond said.
Further relief is also provided to those in Arcata. In a phone call with the Outpost, Diemer said the city has suspended all shutoffs and penalties relating to utility services.
UPDATE, 5:07 p.m.:
Dean Lotter, city manager for Eureka got back to us. Here are the questions asked and Lotter’s response.
Is the City of Eureka adopting any plans for an eviction moratorium?
The City of Eureka agrees and supports the Governor’s eviction Moratorium. Having more residents become homeless during these unprecedented times makes no sense at all. Eureka’s Council has had an opportunity to discuss it as of yet. Enforcement authority does seem to be a gray area that City’s need further clarification on in order to get involved with untimely evictions. At this time I have directed staff to work on an ordinance that if adopted by council would give staff the needed authority to act on behalf of renter’s. This ordinance will likely be on the next city council meeting; hopefully the April 7th meeting.
Are there any plans in place for those who are out of work and can’t pay rent?
Anyone who is out of work; is encouraged to apply for unemployment benefits with the State of California. If a renter is worried about falling behind on rent, due to losing their job, I would encourage them to engage their landlord as soon as possible to make arrangements regarding their rent. Additionally, it’s important for renters to keep their landlords up to date on their ability to pay and when.
Are there any plans in place for those who can’t meet their basic needs due to a lack of money?
I would recommend that anyone having trouble affording their basic needs get in touch with the County DHHS for assistance.
Are there any plans for a moratorium on utility shut offs?
Yes, the city is not shutting off utilities at this time. If people fall behind in their utility bills they can contact finance and set up a payment plan. For businesses or organizations that temporarily close, they can contact the city and have their utilities shut off; the city will waive their reconnection fee.
Are any city services being suspended?
We have or will close the Zoo, the Golf Course, the Adorni Center (with all programing), facility rental (Wharfinger) city hall is still operating, but on an appointment basis only. All emergency services are fully functional and at full capacity.