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Huntington suspends rent for some struggling businesses and halts water shutoffs in response to coronavirus

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The Huntington Beach Pier is closed to prevent gatherings of people close together as a measure against spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The Huntington Beach City Council has decided to suspend water shutoffs and to halt rent for small businesses on city-owned property as ways to ease financial hardships caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The council also voted Tuesday against a proposed ordinance that would have allowed the city to fine property owners who aren’t following the state’s temporary ban on residential evictions.

In keeping with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for local governments to suspend water shutoffs, the council voted unanimously to halt shutoffs, penalties and fees through May for those who can’t pay bills due to the effects of the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. Residents will be required to pay the bills in two years or less, depending on a timetable the city decides once the shutoff suspension ends.

The council also voted unanimously to provide rent abatement for businesses on city-owned property, particularly those that have struggled financially or had to close because of stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on activities. According to the city, many of the businesses covered in the ordinance are small and family-owned.

The concessionaires include Ruby’s Diner on the closed pier, Duke’s, Zack’s Pier Plaza, Meadowlark Golf Club, Huntington Harbour Yacht Club and Surf City Store.

The ordinance originally included 44 mobile-home spaces in the Ocean View Estates neighborhood. Councilman Mike Posey excluded that from his motion, contending the mobile-home tenants haven’t been impacted financially like the businesses have been.

Councilman Patrick Brenden said he believed the mobile-home tenants would be covered by the state’s eviction ban.

The council also voted 5-2, with members Jill Hardy and Kim Carr dissenting, against a proposed ordinance that would have given the city the power to enforce the temporary ban on evictions by fining property owners who don’t follow the order.

The ordinance also would have covered commercial tenants and would have extended the eviction moratorium for 120 days. Newsom’s order expires at the end of May.

Some council members found the idea redundant and took umbrage with the pressure it could place on property owners.

“I don’t even know why this is here,” Councilman Erik Peterson told City Attorney Michael Gates. “When you started it, I understood it, but then the governor came out and did his thing until the end of May. Now ... besides encumbering property rights, here we are adding fines to it. Can you explain the logic or why this is?”

Gates said it would make the city the lead agency on enforcement.

"[Newsom] issued an emergency executive order saying there shall not be any tenant evictions for failure to pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic until May 31,” Gates said. “This supplements that. It’s not redundant to the extent it gives us the ability to enforce that. He has no enforcement mechanism from Sacramento.”

Carr said the city has received about 1,000 calls from residents asking for help with rent.

“We are listening to our residents, we are responding to them and we are sensitive to what is going on,” Carr said. “We are not talking about this is going to last for a year or two years or taking away anybody’s freedoms. We are asking for a little bit of help right now in this time of crisis. I think we need to support this as city leaders. We need to show that we are all in this together.”

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