LA Council Reaffirms End to COVID State of Emergency

Close-up of a hand holding a positive antigen test for COVID-19.

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The City Council voted again to end Los Angeles' state of local emergency due to COVID-19 at the end of the month, after a motion to extend the emergency and keep in place temporary tenant protections failed Tuesday.

The council voted in December to set an end date for the emergency after extending it indefinitely every month since March 2020. It must vote on continuing the emergency each month.

Council members Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez again filed an amending motion to scrap the end date, which fell one vote short of the eight required. A similar motion fell two votes short in December.

California's COVID-19 state of emergency is set to expire at the end of February.

Council President Paul Krekorian backed the end date, seeking to separate tenant protections from the COVID-19 state of emergency. Krekorian also pledged to agendize items pertaining to tenant protections once they are passed out of committees.

"Tenant protections are not before us," Krekorian said. "What's before us is whether there is a state of emergency before us because of COVID and there is not. There clearly is not."

Councilwoman Nithya Raman, chair of the Housing and Homelessness Committee, disagreed. She contended that the state of emergency due to COVID-19 is connected to ordinances that have put in place temporary tenant protections during the pandemic.

"Whether or not we want that to be the thing that's in front of us, unfortunately that is the decision in front of us," Raman said.

The same six council members who voted in December to continue the emergency beyond this month again supported the amendment, with the addition of Councilman Kevin de León. De León, who recently began attending council meetings again amid defying resignation calls, did not vote on the item in December.

The amending motion sought to keep the state of emergency in place until the council implements permanent tenant protections.

Raman, with de León standing across from her in the chamber, said that the City Hall racism scandal has delayed discussions on potential permanent tenant protections.

De León used to chair the Homelessness and Poverty Committee until he was stripped from his committee assignments following the scandal. Former Councilman Gil Cedillo, who was chair of the Housing Committee, was also stripped of his committee posts. Raman is now chair of the Housing and Homelessness Committee, after Krekorian combined the two committees into one.

"Just to be crystal clear, you have my complete commitment to agendize within this council those issues the moment they are reported out of committee," Krekorian said to Raman. "There is absolutely no reason that we couldn't get that done before the end of this month."

The local state of emergency ensures that renter protections created during the pandemic remain in place, but the city's longstanding eviction protections due to COVID-19 hardship are also set to expire at the end of January.

Last October, the council voted 12-0 to approve a package of recommendations from a council committee to sunset the renters protections.

Under the council action, landlords will be able to resume increasing rent on rent-controlled apartments, which account for three-quarters of the units in Los Angeles, beginning in February 2024.

Tenants who have missed payments since March 2020 will have to meet two repayment deadlines. Under state law, they have until Aug. 1, 2023, to pay back missed rent between March 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. Under the city's moratorium, tenants will have until Feb. 1, 2024, to repay rent accumulated from Oct. 1, 2021 to Feb. 1, 2023.

Raman, Soto-Martinez and Hernandez will take part in a rally with tenant groups and labor unions in support of tenant protections outside City Hall on Wednesday.

Hernandez said that the October vote to end the tenant protections took place before she and the new council members took office.

"We haven't been given the opportunity to try to develop these solutions with the rest of the team, which I hope we get the opportunity to," Hernandez said.

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