The City Council has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss tenant protections from eviction, possible financial relief for local businesses and arts organizations, and other pressing issues linked to the impacts of COVID-19 in Berkeley.
Council had canceled its regular meetings for March in light of the developing public health crisis tied to the novel coronavirus, but called the emergency session after broad shelter-in-place orders came down in Berkeley and across the region Monday that shut down all but vital services and put limits on what people are allowed to do between now and April 7.
Council has four items on the agenda to consider Tuesday at 6 p.m.: the cancellation of most city meetings for 60 days; a proposal to protect tenants from eviction; the possibility of a new $3 million fund to help with housing access and the needs of local businesses and other organizations; and a recommendation about how to help “special populations” that are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection.
Monday’s region-wide shelter-in-place order does not specifically address whether members of the public can attend city meetings, but it does say that only activities deemed “essential” can continue. Berkeley does broadcast some of its meetings online, including its City Council sessions.
The city had agreed last week to set up special areas at its meetings for public comment and said it would limit how many attendees could be in council chambers at any given time. There was also discussion of providing a way for members of the public to provide comments remotely, but Berkeleyside was unable to reach the city prior to publication to find out whether these had been set up.
According to Tuesday’s agenda, “The Mayor may exercise a two minute speaking limitation to comments from Councilmembers.”
Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s proposal for a COVID-19 “relief fund” asks the city manager to look into how to set up a tax-exempt $3 million fund “to provide gap resources which to be matched with grants or philanthropic donations to provide gap assistance to renters, small businesses and arts organizations significantly impacted … by the COVID-19 state of emergency.”
Organizations would be required to show their losses using gross receipts or patronage information.
The mayor is also asking the city manager to look at federal, state and not-for-profit funding that could be leveraged against city money.
Another piece of the proposal asks the city manager to identify more money for the city’s flexible housing pool, which is run by Bay Area Community Services and provides “emergency rental assistance” and other resources to help people stay housed or get into shelter of some kind.
Council members are also looking to provide protections for tenants who might face eviction by adding a new “urgency ordinance” to the city’s municipal code. Arreguín, along with council members Rigel Robinson and Kate Harrison, say the item will be “essential to avoid unnecessary displacement and homelessness.”
Monday, the governor gave local jurisdictions the authority to approve such laws.
“Many tenants have experienced sudden income loss, and further income impacts are anticipated, leaving tenants vulnerable to eviction,” according to the Berkeley item. “In addition, tenants who contract COVID-19 are required to self-quarantine which will require time away from work.”
In the past week San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Los Angeles have put similar laws into place, according to the proposal.