L.A. extends renter protections, suspends farmers markets as virus cases continue to climb

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gave renters leeway on making payments and temporarily shut down farmers markets across the city due overcrowding concerns in his Monday coronavirus briefing.

Garcetti amended the rules under the city’s eviction freeze, giving residential tenants 12 months and commercial tenants three months to pay back what they owe, which he said he believes are the most generous terms for renters anywhere in the country.

The order also suspended rent increases on units covered by the city’s rent control measure, which applies to more than 624,000 units.

“Rent will stay the same,” the mayor. “This is a common sense action on top of the eviction moratorium that will help folks stay in their homes and make ends meet.”

But some say jurisdictions need to go farther, especially in areas like L.A. where many can barely afford rent as it is. People nationwide are vowing rent strikes if payments aren’t waived, and a group leading the movement says all rent, mortgage and utility bill payments should cease for 2 months.

All farmers markets were suspended, but they can reopen if they submit plans to ensure six feet of distance between patrons.

Garcetti said that will probably mean each has one entrance and one exit, with a line to get in. Those that develop rules and have them approved could reopen as soon as this week, he added.

The mayor said he’s aware the street markets are an attractive alternative when shoppers are still lining up outside many grocery stores, “but we can’t risk the spread of this disease.”

So far, L.A. police have responded to 46 nonessential businesses that refused to shut down, according to Garcetti.

Monday’s address comes after virus cases across L.A. County topped 2,400 with 44 deaths. Garcetti said there are now 1,171 cases in the city of L.A., a 15% increase over the day before, and the number of fatalities countywide has doubled over the past four days.

Nearly 8,400 people in the city had been tested as of Monday, and the mayor said he hopes to have about 5,000 more completed by the end of the week. A fifth testing center opened Monday.

Noting that isolation is “a critical weapon in the days ahead,” Garcetti addressed the fact that the virus is now spreading among the city’s sizable homeless population, with two confirmed cases.

The city plans to have doctors canvass the streets to test people as early as Wednesday, Garcetti said.

On Sunday, Garcetti said 13 of the 42 recreation centers the city is converting into temporary housing had opened — which he originally expected to happen by March 22. On Monday, he said those 13 shelters are at 95% capacity.

The state has agreed to send about 500 camper trailers, the first 42 of which have arrived at the Westwood Recreation Center. Another 47 are expected to be at the rec center in Granada Hills by Wednesday, the mayor said.

Hotels and motels in the region have pledged about 900 rooms for use in quarantining people, and another 150 lodging facilities are being assessed, Garcetti said. Those that want to be involved can visit coronavirus.lacity.org/rooms.

On Monday, coronavirus cases were confirmed among another vulnerable population: inside the L.A. County jail system.

One inmate at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility and four employees have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Times. And at the state prison in Lancaster, at least two inmates have been infected.

Over the weekend, Garcetti announced the L.A. Convention Center is being converted into a temporary hospital as officials prepare for a surge in patients. Last week, the USNS Mercy hospital ship docked at the Port of L.A. to provide 1,000 beds, making it the largest medical facility in the city.

In anticipation of the surge, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday asked anyone in the medical field who isn’t currently practicing — like retired doctors and nursing students — to register to help at healthcorps.ca.gov. Garcetti previously announced a similar initiative for the city.

In his address Monday, Garcetti also issued a plea for motorist not to reverse the work officials are doing to free up hospital space. The mayor said emergency personnel are responding to fewer car crashes, but the ones that do occur “have been horrific.”

“People are speeding, people are going too fast,” he said. “I know, for those who have to drive, how amazing it must feel to be on these streets … but you still have to obey the speed limit.”

Police will be out looking for speeders, the mayor warned.

Garcetti has been updating the public at 5:15 p.m. each weekday and Sunday via a remote live broadcast.

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