The American and California flag fluttering

The LA City Council held a 12-hour meeting March 27 via Zoom teleconferencing to tackle measures aimed at adding protections for renters and workers during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Council President Nury Martinez canceled the previous week’s meeting due to concerns about the virus and the staff being unprepared. 

“I wanted to ensure that the security and safety of everyone involved was not going to be compromised,” said Martinez, who was the only councilmember in chambers.  

“Even though we’re experiencing one of the worst pandemics in our city’s history—if not the world—I have not forgotten who I am. I have always been and will always be an advocate for the working poor. As I mentioned when I was sworn in as your president, the family–first agenda was going to be as important today as it was in January to protect people who depend on us. They’re depending on us to take bold actions this morning and to make sure that their families as well as their jobs are being protected.” 

During the public comments portion of the meeting, the public phoned—landlords concerned about mortgage payments and the unemployed worried about paying their rents. 

To give renters peace of mind, the council voted to expand the length of time that renters can pay back unpaid rent during the coronavirus outbreak from six months—which Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed—to one year. 

The council unanimously voted to redirect $11 million that the city set aside for microloans to fund a new technical program to maximize the potential of Los Angeles residents applying for and receiving the Small Business Administration and other federal loans as part of the COVID-19 response program. 

Councilmembers also unanimously approved an ordinance that would require business with more than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid leave for their full-time workers to use while recovering from coronavirus themselves or if their family members are suffering from it. Part-time workers would also get additional sick leave, but the requirement doesn’t apply to companies that are temporarily closed due to COVID-19.

However, businesses with 50 employees or less were exempt from this, as numerous business owners and city council members expressed concern that mandating sick leave would have lasting economic repercussions on many restaurants, bars and stores in Los Angeles, potentially leading to bankruptcy and long-term ruin.

“I think it’s irresponsible if we’re making decisions without a full understanding of the economic impact of the stimulus package and how it’s going to support small businesses,” said Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, Seventh District. “I think we need to do everything possible to be thoughtful in these conversations, to consider the industries impacted. I’m concerned about making a decision that would bankrupt some of the businesses.”

The council also voted to not require city contracts that are under $100,000 to be put in writing if they’re related to COVID-19.  

The councilmembers discussed supermarkets. They passed an ordinance that would require supermarkets to reserve the first hour to senior citizens ages 60 and older, as well as those with disabilities. 

Another passed ordinance provides protection for grocery, delivery and drug store workers, allowing them to change schedules if they are ill with coronavirus or need to care for their children or sick family members.

“We are making sure that anybody who had stayed home or cared for a sick child would not have to be put in a position to choose between a sick child or paycheck,” said Councilman Joe Buscaino, 15th District.