Trouble on Main Street
The city of Half Moon Bay is considering placing a moratorium on commercial evictions as the shelter-in-place orders roll on. Clay Lambert / Review

The Half Moon Bay City Council will consider an emergency ordinance to prohibit commercial landlords from evicting tenants while California is in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This follows actions taken earlier this month by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which approved a commercial eviction moratorium for unincorporated areas of the county. The ban lasts until at least May 31 for businesses that make less than $2.5 million annually. If a business can prove it cannot pay rent because of the effects of the pandemic, landlords will not be allowed to evict the tenant.

As city staff looked into the legality of implementing a similar ordinance in Half Moon Bay, Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said, for the most part, he’s heard that landlords and tenants are working together on an individual basis.

“Some landlords have waived rent and some are not being as forgiving,” he said.

Unlike larger cities in the county that have several corporate landlords with a lot of real estate, Half Moon Bay tends to have mom-and-pop property owners.

“These are families that have acquired property and depend on this income to meet their expenses,” Chidester said. “So, we need to consider the impacts on the landlords as well and whether they can absorb the lost income.”

Several council members acknowledged the importance of keeping businesses afloat during a time of economic uncertainty, but requested more data on the need in the community.

Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau CEO Krystlyn Giedt conducted a survey. She plans to present the full results at the May 5 City Council meeting. So far she’s had 47 responses from both property owners and business tenants.

“On average, for April and May, landlords and tenants have been working it out,” she said. “It seems the majority of landlords have given a full or partial rent reprieve.”

She said she is still waiting on more responses, which will create a better snapshot of the situation in the community.

“It’s a fine line of two segments of the community that are small businesses, and we do not want to pit one against the other,” Giedt said.

Councilwoman Deborah Penrose wanted to ask commercial landlords to voluntarily waive rent for two to three months.

“Then if they don’t do it voluntarily within a month we will put out an ordinance,” she said. “So we offer a carrot but follow it with a stick.”

The City Council has made it a priority to support a robust downtown area. Last year the council changed the zoning of certain blocks on Main Street in an effort to boost retail and restaurants.

“I think this community knows this is a council not afraid to pass an emergency ordinance to keep our downtown vital and lively,” City Councilman Robert Brownstone said.

“It seems that the downturn could be very long, and the ability of local businesses to secure any of this funding is going to be a challenge,” Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said as the council voted to put the matter on the May 5 agenda. “We may need to have something ready to go.”

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