Gilroy delays eviction moratorium decision

County’s ordinance could apply to city regardless of decision

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A Gilroy City Council already split on an eviction moratorium was further divided when news broke during the March 24 meeting that county supervisors had just passed a similar ordinance that could apply to the city.

According to Gilroy’s proposed ordinance, the moratorium, which would continue through the unknown duration of the COVID-19 emergency, would not exempt renters from paying rent, but it halts evictions of those who have lost their jobs or wages because of the pandemic.

A 4-3 vote in favor of immediately implementing the ordinance did not pass, because such an urgency ordinance requires at least five affirmative votes. The council instead voted 4-3 to decide on the ordinance at its next regular meeting on April 6, but not as an urgency ordinance. If it passes there, it would go into effect 30 days later, City Attorney Andy Faber said.

Mayor Roland Velasco and Councilmembers Marie Blankley and Dion Bracco voted against the ordinance.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order March 16 that allowed local jurisdictions to halt evictions for renters and homeowners and slow foreclosures, among other things. The order does not relieve a tenant from the obligation to pay rent, or restrict the landlord’s ability to recover rent that is due.

During the March 24 meeting, Interim City Administrator Jimmy Forbis announced that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors had just passed its own eviction moratorium, which applies to not just the unincorporated areas of the county, but all 15 cities as well.

The ordinance, which went into effect immediately and extends through May 31, prevents evictions for failure to pay rent from occurring in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to county officials, the county’s ordinance will take precedence if a local ordinance is less stringent.

It was unclear to the council how such an ordinance would affect Gilroy, as none had an opportunity beforehand to study the county’s ordinance due to the quickly evolving COVID-19 situation.

Velasco said the county’s decision possibly renders the city’s decision “moot.”

“I’m just not sure if [Gilroy’s ordinance] is entirely necessary at this point,” he said. “We don’t need to make a decision today on something that doesn’t apply.”

Blankley first made a motion that would have rejected the urgency ordinance to give the city time to determine how it fits into the county’s decision, and bring it back at a meeting before May 31 for consideration if necessary.

That motioned failed 4-3, one vote short needed to pass.

Bracco said such an ordinance wasn’t fair to the landlords, who could be forced into financial trouble themselves if their tenants didn’t have to pay their rent temporarily.

“I want to help people, but not on the backs of others,” he said. “In the city, we have the means to help those less fortunate in our community. But we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about making someone else help them.”

Councilmember Fred Tovar, who said he worked to bring the ordinance to the council, expressed frustration over some councilmembers’ lack of support for the moratorium.

“This is a time that we’ve never experienced before,” he said. “It’s not just about the landlords, it’s not just about the business owners. It’s about the citizens. It saddens me that we are even having this discussion. It should be a no-brainer.”

Velasco, in addition to Forbis, City Clerk Shawna Freels and a handful of city staff, was the only member of the council physically present at the meeting. Due to distancing requirements to combat the spread of COVID-19, the rest of the council attended the meeting by phone, which resulted in technical difficulties throughout.

The public submitted comments online, which were read by Freels.

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