No Evictions, Foreclosures During COVID-19 Pandemic

Council members and city staff take part in a Zoom call during the first all-virtual Malibu City Council meeting. A brief technical difficulty resulted in a note being held up by City Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner; the difficulty was later resolved.

No one in Malibu should have to lose their housing or their business’ lease during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

That is the intention behind the city’s new moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, which went into effect on Monday, April 13, during the Malibu City Council’s first-ever all-virtual meeting. 

Council met at its usual time on Monday to review a brief agenda of city business. According to City Manager Reva Feldman, the agenda was kept short for two reasons—to test the technology and because the limitations of remote meetings make it more difficult for residents and community members to view deliberations and weigh in with their own comments.

The major item before council on Monday was the proposed emergency measure enacting a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, which passed in a unanimous, 5-0, vote. The restriction went into effect immediately, “and will remain in effect until May 31, 2020, and may be extended during the period of local emergency,” according to information from the council’s staff report. The moratorium covers both residential and commercial properties. 

The order “allows six months after the local emergency is terminated for tenants to become current with rent that is owed.”

The six-month time limit to pay back-owed rent and mortgage payments was a concern for Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson, a business coach, who said, “Honestly, the math on this is pretty daunting, and people need to be very careful here.”

“Let’s say you don’t pay your rent for three months and then you have to open your store, and pay … your rent and pay back the three months in the next six months? You’d better have a really good plan,” Pierson continued. He suggested businesses look into other opportunities including disaster loans, PPP (paycheck protection program) loans, and consulting with their banker and their landlord. 

“Everyone needs to work together to get through this. Business isn’t going to go back to 100 percent [on] day one, at all,” Pierson said.

Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner acknowledged how difficult business owners have found joining those programs to be.

“This is going to be difficult; however, negotiations [are] not out of sight,” Wagner, owner of a local small business, surf shop Zuma Jay’s, added. “Stay in the negotiations and be active with it; don’t give up and somehow we’ll prevail and make it through this next couple of months.”

“The last thing we want is for people to be moving, whether it’s your commercial tenancy or your residential. We want everybody in place,” City Attorney Christi Hogin weighed in, pointing out how closely tied together rent protections and stay-at-home orders are.

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors enacted a similar order halting COVID-19-related evictions on residential rentals. The order set a 12-month period for payment of missed rent. It was not immediately clear whether Malibu’s repayment period would also be extended.

Revenues decline sharply; city struggling to balance budget

City Manager Reva Feldman on Monday shared dire predictions about the city’s projected budget for 2020-21, predicting revenue will fall millions of dollars below projections for budget year 2020, which ends June 30, and budget year 2021, which begins July 1.

Feldman, whose financial oversight has guided Malibu into consistent budget surpluses in her time as city manager as well as assistant city manager, said she and her staff were doing “everything we can” to balance the numbers.

“[The budget] started out about six weeks ago as a pretty feel-good project because it looked like we had rebounded pretty successfully from the Woolsey Fire,” Feldman said. “Much to my surprise, revenues were strong and I was really looking forward to being able to … present our budget with some really good news—and then this whole pandemic struck.”

According to Feldman, “every day,” staffers were learning about more impacts to the budget.

“We’re looking probably somewhere between about two—two million dollars down, this year, in revenue, and somewhere closer to another three million, three to four million dollars down next year, so it’s significant and we’re doing everything we can to trim things down so that we’re able to present a balanced budget.”

That budget will likely come before council during another virtual meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 29.