Nine protesters were arrested today at a demonstration where roughly 60 people blocked the entrance to the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse in an attempt to prevent eviction hearings from taking place.
Santa Clara has the highest rate of evictions of any Bay Area county, and despite the pandemic, the judges continue to hear the cases.
Six were arrested for physically blocking the door by sitting in front of it and locking arms, and three were arrested as sheriff deputies moved the crowd away from the courthouse.
Protesters arrived at 8am and demanded that the Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith stop enforcing tenant lock-outs, which has contributed to the high rate of evictions in that county, and that the court hold no eviction hearings during the COVID pandemic.
The argued that directly contribute to the spread of the deadly virus, pointing to a UCLA research paper that found that nearly 500,000 COVID cases and more than 10,000 COVID-related deaths nationwide stemmed from evictions. These demands come just days before the current eviction moratorium, AB 3088, is set to expire on January 31.
“Why do we still have to fight against evictions a year into the pandemic?” asked Tony Samara, spokesperson for the Regional Tenant Organizing Network, which organized the protest:
Evictions, from a health perspective are bad for the people being evicted, for the community, the more likely people have decent shelter the more likely we are to slow the spread of the virus. So why was Santa Clara County so far ahead of the rest of the counties in the number of evictions. Why are they still holding eviction proceedings in-person at the courthouse? It’s very likely that people hear about the governor’s eviction protections and they assume that everything is right with the world, but the fact is that even with the protections that we’ve had over the past year, we know that tenants have been harassed, that landlords are looking for ways to get around the existing protections,…We need to stop all evictions during the pandemic.
Newsom has proposed SB91, a deal where landlords would be able to have 80 percent of back rent owed to them be forgiven using $2.6 billion in federal funds from the most recent COVID relief package, if those landlords agree to forgive the other 20 percent. However, those blocking the courthouse joined the chorus of tenant advocates criticizing the measure, which is set to be voted on by the California state Legislature Thursday, saying that a variety of loopholes in SB91 equate to inadequate tenant protections.
For starters, protesters said that SB91 is voluntary, so landlords can decide not to participate.
“There’s no requirement that landlords participate, so we can imagine scenarios with rent-controlled buildings where landlords would rather just get the tenants out and raise the rents to market-rate rather than take 80 cents on the dollar for whatever’s owed,” said Samara.
Samara also said that there are no mechanisms to inform tenants about the terms of SB91, and what their eviction protections are, which could lead to tenant’s rights under SB91 being violated, since landlords are not required to notify tenants about SB91.
“Lots of tenants, to this day, don’t even know about [AB 3088], there’s this assumption that when the state passes something, somehow, magically, the state’s millions of tenants know that it exists. Laws like this need to require landlords to notify tenants about a new piece of legislation like this when it passes.”
Robert Aguirre, president of the Santa Clara County Homeless Union, said he believes that forgiving all rent is needed because of the widespread problems and because people who are undocumented would not be eligible for SB91, as it involves federal funding and would therefore categorically exclude undocumented immigrants, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Everyone should be covered. Everyone is affected by this….SB91 protects a great majority of the people but it doesn’t protect everyone…people that are undocumented aren’t eligible to take part because if they do, they risk losing the opportunity to become citizens. We want to stop all evictions, not just the ones that are ‘okay.’We would like rent forgiveness, not just an extension of the moratorium,” said Aguirre.
Another issue with SB91, Aguirre said, is that the loopholes in the moratorium extension work to defeat the potential impact of stimulus payments. When people fall through the cracks of the moratorium, and end up on the hook for the month’s rent, they end up putting their stimulus checks into the pockets of their landlords, rather than into the local economy.
“When you have stimulus money that is sent to people, and then that money is used to pay rent, that money is not stimulating any sector of the economy other than the landlords…because what do they do with that money, they pay their bank, and then the bank uses it to pay dividends to their shareholders. The whole model has to change.”
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office told us that
Several protestors were physically blocking the entrance to the courthouse and disrupting day-to-day operations. After nearly two hours of attempting to disperse the crowd, deputies announced via loudspeaker that the protest was officially considered an unlawful assembly, deputies maintained their professionalism and composure.
A total of nine people were arrested for violating a Court Order. Eight of those individuals were transported, processed, cited and released from the Main Jail. One suspect was arrested and booked for violating a Court Order and resisting arrest. Thankfully, no deputies or protestors were injured.
The affected courthouses were closed for the morning and resumed their normal business this afternoon.