Struggling businesses in Santa Barbara County saw their COVID silver lining Tuesday when the county officially passed into the state’s red tier, allowing them more leeway to reopen, and the Board of Supervisors also passed an urgency ordinance temporarily prohibiting commercial evictions through the end of next January.
Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said that all of the metrics that determine how widespread the disease is in the county are continuing to decrease, and the past two weeks have been no different. From September 14-28, hospitalizations have decreased by 30 percent; medical surge rates by 19 percent; and intensive care unit rates by 50 percent.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Santa Barbara County is now listed in the red tier on the state’s COVID-19 website. That moves the county out of the state’s most restrictive purple tier and, beginning Wednesday at 8 a.m., allows gyms to reopen at 10 percent capacity; indoor museums, places of worship, movie theaters, and restaurants at 25 percent capacity; all retail and shopping centers at 50 percent capacity; and nail salons and other personal care services can open indoors. Bars and entertainment centers would remain closed.
Even with the bump in business that the red tier will provide for many, others still are a long way away from financial stability. So the supervisors on Tuesday also adopted an urgency ordinance that temporarily prohibits commercial evictions through January 31, 2021.Though it just made the 4/5 required vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam voting against it, there was push and pull on the dais.
“It’s not a perfect solution,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said. “That would be something at the federal level that treats borrowers and lenders with some sort of holiday that would allow everyone to take a breath and get through this moment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely in this political environment, so we are left here at the local level with the actual real-world consequences.”
The ordinance stops commercial evictions from happening if they are directly linked to the renter’s loss of income or substantial medical expenses related to COVID-19. There is already a nearly identical ordinance in place that is set to expire September 30, and last week the governor issued executive order N-80-20 that allows the county to extend it through March 2021. The ordinance the supervisors passed Tuesday was also intended to be parallel with the recently enacted Tenant Relief Act that provides the same protections to residential tenants.
“I’m surprised to hear everyone’s concern of businesses and business owners, and I think it’s ironic that you have that much concern but you don’t do anything about opening businesses,” said Jim Knell, owner of Sima Corporation, which rents to about 250 retail commercial tenants in the county. “This onerous process that’s being developed by the state and backed by the county is causing commercial tenants to have problems. Most residential tenants are on month-to-month leases, but retail tenants are on long-term leases with expiration dates.”
Knell explained that commercial tenants will try to use the process as a way to extend their leases after they’ve already expired, even if he already has a new tenant lined up. Supervisor Adam agreed with Knell, saying to his colleagues: “You may want to put a Band-Aid on, but the root cause of this is our failure to open.”
But they did not agree. Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who asked for the ordinance to come to the board with Hart, said that the characterizations simply aren’t true.
“I take exception to the idea that somehow we created COVID or somehow we have shut down this community and harmed business,” Lavagnino said. “That is not a decision of the Board of Supervisors…. I could have gotten a million pats on the back for giving the governor the finger and saying, ‘Businesses, do whatever you want to do. Let’s just roll the dice and see what happens.’ That is not good public health policy. Rolling the dice with people’s health is always bad policy.”
For industry-specific guidance on how to reopen in the red tier, visit recoverysbc.org/reopen-your-business.
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