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City Council approves moratorium on evictions

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The City Council approved several emergency measures at a marathon City Council meeting March 27 intended to help people through the coronavirus pandemic, including extending a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions, requiring paid sick leave for certain employees and protections for people who are working for businesses deemed “essential.”

“I’ve always been and will always be an advocate of the working poor, and that’s what we’re attempting to do here is address some of the needs of some of the working class and poor people who live in our city,” City Council President Nury Martinez said during the first hour of a more than 11-hour meeting that ended at 10:30 p.m.

The council voted to not allow tenants to be evicted if they are able to show an inability to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tenants now have up to 12 months to repay past rent, starting from when the local emergency orders are lifted — but that could change, as the council continued discussion on the matter after the vote.

An amendment to the proposal was approved to exclude properties leased by banks, multinational corporations or companies with more than 500 employees, which are companies council members said would be able to pay rent.

People who spoke during the meeting said they were concerned that a moratorium on evictions may not do much if they are required to back pay their rent, as they may not have been able to work throughout the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order earlier March 27 banning the enforcement of evictions for renters affected by the coronavirus outbreak, similar to the city’s emergency laws.

The council approved protective measures for grocery workers and food delivery businesses to allow for their employee schedules to be flexible and to not allow them to be terminated during the emergency outbreak for staying home.

Councilman Paul Koretz said he wanted to require that grocery store employees handle as little merchandise as possible and to provide sanitation wipes at the front of their stores unless they can document unavailability.

Koretz also recommended limiting the number of people allowed into a grocery store at one time to 35% of a store’s capacity.

Koretz said he wants to codify a six-foot distance requirement between people waiting in line and to provide a queuing mechanism if it takes longer than 15 minutes for people to wait.

The suggestions Koretz made have not been finalized by the council.

The City Council approved requiring companies with more than 501 employees — nationally or locally — to pay two weeks of sick leave to employees affected by the pandemic.

Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said she was comfortable making the requirements for corporate entities, but wanted to get more information on the financial effects it could have.

An employee would not be able receive more than $511 per day and no more than $5,110 in aggregate sick leave payment.

The proposal didn’t mention income levels for the workers who could receive paid sick leave, but many council members said low-income workers would fall under these employment sectors.

“We must act and we must act today. We cannot forget the working-class people that are really the unsung heroes of getting us through this crisis to this point,” Councilman Herb Wesson said.

“We have a responsibility to give that to them. Let’s move forward. We will be afforded the possibility to make adjustments as we get additional information and things shift.”

Council members said some businesses with smaller employment numbers may be able to apply for federal assistance through a stimulus package, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump, that includes about $2 trillion for various immediate needs.

Smaller businesses could be pushed to the brink of closing if they were required to pay two weeks of salary to all their employees, council members said.

Collective bargaining agreements can be applied in lieu of the sick leave emergency ordinance, but only if they provide the same pay as the city’s ordinance.

The council also voted to have a report provided on the economic effects of the ordinance and how the stimulus bill augments the emergency law, and whether the council should amend it in the near future.

The council approved an emergency motion by Councilman Bob Blumenfield that goes into effect immediately for the city to use $11 million to help small businesses obtain loans, and for the city’s Employment and Workforce Development Department to start working with local business organizations to assist with loan applications.

The council voted to allow city contracts under $100,000 not have to be put in writing, if they’re related to addressing the pandemic.

The council decided to postpone a vote on whether to require employers to rehire employees who had been laid off during the coronavirus outbreak, with some exceptions.

Councilman Paul Krekorian said he would like to give the City Attorney’s Office time to draft a “clear” ordinance to be discussed by the council in the near future.

The proposed ordinance would temporarily grant priority to workers who had been employed by a business the longest.

One public speaker said younger employees are going to be affected because they haven’t worked as many years for a business as some of their counterparts.

Those provisions would not expire until March 2022.

Toward the end of the meeting, Krekorian made motions to be heard at the next City Council meeting to put a six-month halt on collection of payments to city loans and to extend the deadlines for payments for citations for 90 days and other city deadlines.

Councilman David Ryu introduced a motion that will also be considered at the next meeting to freeze all rent and utility increases for the duration of the pandemic.

The City Council has not scheduled its next meeting.

It was in many ways an unusual City Council meeting, with random whispers from audio feeds coming in and out as the council tried to conduct its business by Zoom teleconference.

Martinez halted the meeting just under an hour into it, as people who were participating in the teleconference platform were showing pornographic images. Cameras to the platform were cut off shortly after this was noticed.

This follows a new trend called “Zoombombing.”

The meeting resumed after about a 15-minute delay to solve the problem.Media outlets were not permitted inside the Council Chamber during the meeting.

By ERIC HEINZ

Contributing Writer