In a special meeting Monday, Berkeley City Council passed a motion to extend the COVID-19 Emergency Response Ordinance covered period for 60 days past the expiration of the local emergency declaration.
The motion, authored by Mayor Jesse Arreguín, emphasizes the need for a “transition” between the end of the local emergency and the end of the eviction moratorium, noting that property owners and tenants may not be aware of its end.
Arreguín also argued that because Alameda County courts will not be processing eviction cases for 60 days past the end of the local emergency in any case, it made sense to adopt the motion.
Councilmembers Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf, Kate Harrison, Terry Taplin and Mark Humbert expressed immediate support for the motion.
During the public comment period, a number of speakers testified to the experiences of both landlords and tenants under the eviction moratorium.
Sam Sorokin, a member of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, opposed the bill, calling property owners “first responders” and accusing tenants of taking advantage of the eviction moratorium to avoid paying rent despite having jobs; another property manager accused tenants of buying furniture, clothing and cars with government aid and unemployment money. A third property owner proposed that landlords should band together for a “tax revolt” if the measure passes and not pay various taxes or the $150-250 yearly rent board fees.
Many people, however, advocated strongly for the motion, which they said protects the most disenfranchised members of the community and prevents people from becoming houseless.
Laura Bixby is a renter and mother in Berkeley who works at the East Bay Community Law Center with such tenants. She noted that despite landlord complaints, there is a way to collect rent from the few people genuinely defrauding the system.
“The fact is that many, if not most, of the tenants who have accrued rental debt, who are the tenants that I work with, are very low income,” Bixby said during the meeting. “They fell behind on their rent back when we had shelter-in-place orders; we had many impacts, we had restaurants shutting down. Since these tenants are on low incomes or fixed incomes, they haven’t been able to climb out of that hole of rental debt.”
Another public commenter, identified as “Jessica G,” said she supports rental protections for tenants, but also wants more assistance for small property owners like herself — she owns her childhood home, which has an Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, attached.
Jessica said she has not been able to stay in her home due to a fire, and the tenant in her ADU has not been paying rent since September 2022.
“I believe in and support Berkeley’s strong tenant protections in place,” Jessica said during the meeting. “But we need to expand ways to support, notify and educate tenants while also supporting people like me, a single Black woman, a homeowner working hard to protect the legacy of my family and my future.”
The measure passed through the council unanimously. A second item, which adds stipulations to applications of the eviction moratorium — to sunset it for commercial properties, to permit owner move-in evictions for owners of a single rental property including ADUs and establishing a transition period in which certain kinds of evictions remain prohibited — was also passed through council, though Humbert and Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani abstained and Wengraf voted no. In its regular Tuesday meeting, the council voted to postpone the decision to end the emergency period.