Berkeley City Council votes to pass action items for COVID-19 relief

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On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council members voted unanimously to pass four action items that provide direct response and relief for the local COVID-19, the new coronavirus, outbreak.

The items passed included adopting an urgency ordinance providing protections to tenants against eviction; creating a tax-exempt special fund of $3 million for gap assistance; providing additional funding for housing during the state of emergency and developing strategies for populations in Berkeley who face unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every employee, every manager and every council member is trained on how things work in an emergency,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn. “We are not in a panic; we are moving swiftly, we are working.”

Hahn originally proposed the action item to provide aid for special populations, including the homeless community, individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, single-parent households and undocumented residents, according to the item document.

The urgency ordinance will take effect immediately to prohibit landlords from evicting commercial or residential tenants if the instance of eviction was caused by the current COVID-19 state of emergency, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s spokesperson Stefan Elgstrand.

The ordinance is a response to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order recommending the halting of evictions and makes Berkeley the first city in California to supply eviction relief for commercial properties, according to Elgstrand.

“I’ve heard from too many tenants that fear they won’t make rent next month, too many small business owners that don’t know if they’ll ever open their doors again,” said Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. “Everyone needs a safe place to shelter, and we need to keep the culture of our city alive through this crisis.”

The creation of a $3 million special fund granting assistance to renters, small businesses and arts organizations impacted by the state of emergency is set to launch Sunday, according to Elgstrand.

Elgstrand added that Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development, in tandem with various stakeholders, which include the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and the Telegraph Business Improvement District, is currently deciding the criterion for the funds.

Council members also voted to allocate additional funding to the flexible housing pool to provide emergency rental assistance and funding for housing, according to Elgstrand.

During public comment, Hahn said she heard “heartbreaking stories” from individuals working for businesses that are shutting down or letting go of employees. Hahn added that there is “a lot of solidarity and unanimity at the leadership level” in wanting to ensure the public’s well-being.

“I know we will get through this, I know we will join together, I know we will recover as a community and as a state,” Hahn said. “It’s not like the light switch is going to turn on and everything will look exactly like it did before. There’s going to be a lot of work to be done to strengthen and rebuild.”

Contact Olivia Buccieri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.