Stopping evictions and price-gouging in the coronavirus crisis

Plus: the need for an arts, worker, and small-business bailout—and the mayor will get asked about corruption. That's The Agenda for March 9-15.

Sup. Dean Preston is calling for a moratorium on all evictions in San Francisco during the coronavirus outbreak. And District Attorney Chesa Boudin has set up a special hotline to report profiteers who are price-gouging in the crisis.

Preston’s legislation will be introduced Tuesday/10, and is aimed at preventing not just people who are sickened and unable to work but the low-income workers who are seeing their incomes plummet as people stay home from restaurants, concerts and performances are canceled, and the local economy slows.

Sup. Dean Preston is calling for a moratorium on evictions.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has already announced his plan to ban the evictions of both residents and small businesses who have lost income during the public-health crisis.

Boudin, along with both the governor and state attorney general, has warned that California law prohibits price-gouging during a state of emergency.

That means, potentially, that San Francisco landlords can’t raise the rent—even on vacant apartments—by more than 10 percent right now.

It gives the city, which has also declared a state of emergency, considerable power to prevent landlords from tossing out tenants who can’t pay the rent because the crisis has caused them to lose income, Preston told me.

“This is well within the board’s authority,” he said.

The measure will take more than a month to work its way through the legislative process. If the mayor were on board, she might be able to use executive authority to move more quickly.

But since evictions typically take several months anyway, this could be a big deal to a lot of vulnerable tenants.

The entire discussion also raises the question of what the state and the city can do to subsidize individuals and small businesses that are suffering, and will continue to suffer for months to come. The arts community has been devastated already—musicians and performers from both large and small operations are out of work, and a lot of them are gig workers who don’t get paid if their event is canceled or their venue shuts down.

Rupa Marya, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF who is also a performing musician, posted an open letter/petition via Facebook to the mayors of Oakland and San Francisco:

As a hospital medicine physician at UCSF and a first responder to the CoVID19 spread, I want to commend you for taking steps to contain the virus by recommending limited social engagement. I believe that limiting how many gatherings are happening this month will be crucial to how quickly and effectively we weather this storm together.

Many wage workers I know will be deeply impacted by this. Musicians are having gigs canceled. Restaurant workers are not making the tips they need to survive. Theater performances are being canceled and actors, stagehands and crew are impacted. Yoga teachers and dance teachers are impacted as well.

I am asking for you to put a moratorium on evictions and enact a plan to forgive rent for wage workers who will be unable to make the income needed to pay rent for the month of April. By following the advice of the SF health department, they are doing a service to the greater good and should not be punished fiscally for that collective action.

But the city and the state also ought to be looking at financial help for the people who are suffering. During the financial crisis, the federal government was happy to bail out the banks; now, some of the working population needs that sort of help.

Nate Seider, who runs a special-event and wedding DJ company, told me that he has lost one big corporate event and another community gathering has been cancelled. “At this point I’m out two months’ rent,” he said. “I also know a lot of people who are losing gigs.”

He said “it’s really hard on DJs and entertainment people. We’re all just hoping we can weather this.”

I think it’s safe to say that the federal government under Trump won’t do anything, but California is in a position to try to keep this from becoming even more of an economic crisis. And there are a lot of people in this city who, despite some stock-market losses, have massive wealth and could help with an arts, workers, and small-business bailout fund.

(The money Mike Bloomberg wasted running for president would have been enough to save thousands of jobs, prevent thousands of evictions, and keep thousands of artists and performers from financial disaster.)

And the city is in a position to make sure than anyone taking advantage of this outbreak to make excess profits is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

District Attorney Chesa Boudin told me tonight that his office will hold accountable anyone who violates the state price-gouging law.

“The last thing anyone should have to worry about in a crisis is being cheated,” he said. “People who try to profiteer from a public-health emergency will be held accountable.”

If you think you’re a victim of price-gouging (including by landlords) you can call the DA’s hotline at 415-551-9595.

Sup. Aaron Peskin’s legislation regulating intermediate-term rentals comes back to the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/9, and should be headed for a vote that would send it to the full board. The committee will also be hearing a resolution confirming that it’s the city’s intention to take over Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

PG&E is at a state of collapse – state Sen. Scott Wieneris calling for a state takeover,and the company’s market value is less than a quarter what it was two years ago (meaning the state could get it cheap). Of course, the company’s bankruptcy-exit plan is massively expensive and will rely on a huge amount of new borrowing, which will make the company even more unstable and unable to provide clean, reliable energy at a fair price.

PG&E has so far refused to negotiate with San Francisco. So at a certain point, if the city is going to fulfill its legal and historic mandate for public power,the supes and the mayor and the city attorney are going to have to condemn the company’s property and seize it under eminent domain.

That’s a complicated legal process and could take years. So is this bankruptcy mess. The sooner they start, the sooner we could see some progress.

Mayor London Breed appears before the board Tuesday/10, and for once, some of the supes actually have some questions for her. They should be enlightening.

Preston has informed Breed he wants to ask about “corruption.” I think it’s pretty clear that he’s going to focus on the Department of Public Works scandal, and I don’t know what he’s going to ask, but one obvious question is this:

In all the time you have known Mohammed Nuru, both as a friend and as a public official, did you ever have any suspicion that anything he was doing was in the least bit unethical? And if not, what does that say about your management ability?

District 6 Supe Matt Haney is going to ask about “transportation infrastructure.” Perhaps he wants to know if all the new development the mayor is supporting will actually pay for itself.

The board will also vote on Haney’s proposal to hire an outside investigator to look at corruption in local government, particularly the DPW scandal. There are four co-sponsors, Sups. Hillary Ronen, Gordon Mar, Preston, and Shamann Walton. Takes six votes.

And Sup. Aaron Peskin’s measure to allow the Government Audit and Accountability Committee to issue subpoenas is on the agenda.

Will be a fascinating meeting.