Amid cries for support by renters and community activists, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted in support of a letter calling on the state to extend its eviction moratorium and directed staff to review county authorities to enact protections of its own.

“Should the governor not sign it, we … better be prepared to have some action plan in place to assist those who are going to be evicted or potentially evicted,” Supervisor Carole Groom said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Supervisors voted unanimously to send a letter urging state officials to extend California’s eviction moratorium through Dec. 31. The order had been put in place Aug. 31 to prevent renters from losing their housing due to unpaid rent during the pandemic.

The order was later extended through June 30 but, as the date approached, renters have called for additional support as the economic strains of the pandemic continue to weigh on families.

County Manager Mike Callagy noted local renters have access to a $47 million state program that offers to pay 80% of back rent accrued between March 31 and June 30. To qualify for full assistance, landlords must agree to forgive the remaining 20% of rent. If not, renters are still eligible for assistance with 20% of what is owed.

But the program has been substantially undersubscribed, Callagy said, suggesting an arduous application process and hesitant landlords could be why. Of the $47 million given to the county, $2.2 million has been allocated to landlords with another $8.9 million approved. An additional $1.4 million has been requested for utility support.

“The money is there and we will be happy to look at other ways … to do outreach whether it’s radio, Spanish radio, TV, whatever it might be to get the word out because we want every dime of this money to be used,” Callagy said.

He noted state officials are discussing the potential expansion of the rent forgiveness program to cover 100% of back rent, another reason proponents of the eviction moratorium have called for more time.

Responding to an inquiry from Supervisor Dave Pine regarding the county’s legal authority to enact a countywide eviction moratorium of its own, County Counsel John Beiers said the legal landscape is unclear.

Planning for inaction

Supervisors had put in place a countywide eviction moratorium last summer that was backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state of emergency. Concerned for small landlords, the board began to phase its ordinance out but renters were still protected by the state’s moratorium.

But improving health conditions may limit the county’s legal argument for enacting a new moratorium despite California’s state of emergency remaining in place after the state reopens June 15.

And conditions within San Mateo County are of the best in the Bay Area with hospitalizations at an all-time low. Vaccinations in the county have also reached nearly 83% of all residents ages 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, said Dr. Anand Chabra, the section chief of COVID-19 mass vaccination and medical director of Family Health Services, noting vaccinations among younger children will likely be the focus by the end of the year.

“We’re clearly in a different place than we were a year ago and I guess that does matter whether this body can take exterritorial action,” Beiers said.

Still, supervisors shared support reviewing potential paths for enacting a local eviction moratorium whether countywide or only for the unincorporated areas. Horsley said his and Slocum’s staff would work with counsel to return with proposals by the next meeting.

Board President David Canepa said he’d like to see a 120-day eviction moratorium drafted for discussion on June 29, the next meeting before the state moratorium is slated to expire.

“We face an eviction cliff that is going to be catastrophic and we cannot let these people be displaced because of COVID,” Canepa said. “We really need to make a concerted effort to leave no one behind and no one should go unhoused.”

Local business support

Concerned about local small businesses, Supervisors also approved a $5.8 million ordinance authorizing the county’s director of the Environmental Health Services Division to establish a Permit Fee Relief Program. The program would offer a one-time permit fee credit to more than 5,400 businesses hard hit by the pandemic.

Fee credits will appear on a business’ annual invoice sent out in batches by EHSD monthly, Heather Forshey, director of EHSD said. Businesses will see a line item credit for each fee eligible for the credit beginning July.

Roughly 200 large markets eligible for the program will need to submit an attestation form for the credit and will be contacted through mail, email and face-to-face interactions, Forshey said.

“This waiver relief will help thousands of small businesses throughout our county and will also save jobs,” said John Kevranian, owner of Burlingame’s Nuts for Candy and president of the Broadway Burlingame Business Improvement District. “Many businesses will be able to keep their doors open with this relief.”

The program will likely be funded by the $74 million given to the county through the American Rescue Plan, the second federal COVID-19 relief bill. Until approved, the dollars will be fronted through the general fund.

Callagy said staff is preparing to return to the board with proposals for how to spend the $74 million, suggesting $11 million could go toward continued vaccination efforts, other community needs and paying down part of the nearly $50 million the county has spent of COVID-19 relief that has not been refunded by the federal or state governments.

“We want to make sure we address those immediate needs,” Callagy said. “But also we want to look long range. What are the implications further down the line, four, six, eight months out as we go through this original allotment of $74.4 million.”

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