To shield the local economy from the threat posed by COVID-19, San Bruno officials banned evictions on small businesses struggling to pay rent amid a global pandemic.

The San Bruno City Council unanimously approved a temporary commercial eviction moratorium Tuesday, April 28, with hopes that it will prevent displacement among local merchants.

The vote follows similar decisions by other city and county officials who have taken swift action, with an expectation that the disrupted economy will deal a punishing blow to companies of all sizes.

Councilwoman Linda Mason said she felt the eviction ban would be an efficient and effective way of helping San Bruno merchants.

“I think this is a really appropriate step,” she said.

She balanced that perspective with acknowledgment that the city’s capability to support local businesses is limited. For example, she nodded to the forgivable loan program launched in Burlingame which provides financial aid to struggling companies.

San Bruno does not have the money available to operate such a program, said Mason, who hoped the eviction moratorium could offer some other form of limited relief.

“This is one way to help our small business community because we don’t have the money that other cities have,” she said.

Under the decision, small businesses proving economic hardship due to COVID-19 cannot receive eviction notices for not paying rent while the state of emergency is in place. The program largely mirrors a similar decision by the Board of Supervisors applying only to unincorporated portions of San Mateo County. Supervisors also previously banned all residential evictions throughout the county, which is why San Bruno officials did not need to approve temporary local tenant protections.

In San Bruno, councilmembers agreed any business showing $5 million or less in gross annual receipts would be eligible for eviction protection. If a company claims economic hardship due to the pandemic, it will have at least 90 days to pay back the due rent, and there will be another 30-day extension available if necessary. The protection will be retroactive until when the local emergency was declared in response to the virus.

While he favored the program, Vice Mayor Michael Salazar noted the moratorium could cause hardship for local landlords and property owners who rely on rents to pay their bills.

“It is potentially shifting this burden onto a different group of people,” he said.

Councilmembers agreed the eviction ban could not cure all the local economy’s problems, and Councilwoman Laura Davis said many merchants will be forced out of business due to the losses suffered during the shutdown.

“To close the doors for so many months is just devastating,” she said.

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