After much discussion, the Goleta City Council voted Tuesday night to keep its existing temporary moratorium on evictions because of COVID-19-related financial loss.

“We have an opportunity to stick a stake in the ground and say that we’re going to ensure protection for tenants until the emergency ends,” Councilman James Kyriaco said.

The council was faced with the decision to keep its existing ordinance prohibiting evictions because of COVID-19 financial distress or default to the state’s new framework in the Tenant Relief Act AB 3088.

Goleta passed its eviction moratorium on March 17 after declaring a local emergency because of COVID-19. Under that ordinance, evictions are temporarily prohibited on residential and commercial tenants that have suffered COVID-19-related financial loss until the local emergency is terminated. Tenants have to show written notice of loss of income or inability to pay rent within 30 days after rent is due.

On Aug. 31, Gov. Gavin Newsom passed AB 3088 that requires tenants to fill out a hardship declaration proving that they had suffered financial loss because of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also requires tenants to pay 25 percent of their rent for a five-month period from Sept. 1 through January.

Under the states’s framework, tenants can be evicted on Feb. 1, 2021, if they failed to take the above actions. The one-year rent repayment period must start no later than March 1, 2021, but landlords can still go to small claims court at that time to collect unpaid rent for the covered period.

Because Goleta’s existing ordinance had no set end date, the city had the option of keeping the ordinance the way it is until the local emergency ends and adopting AB 3088’s 12-month repayment period starting March 1, according to Winnie Cai, deputy city attorney.

Council members were wary about keeping the existing ordinance as it is because it would just delay an even larger payment later on.

“There’s going to be a bill that comes through at some point,” Mayor Pro Tempore Kyle Richards said. “What we’re looking at is just delaying an even larger bill sometime down the road.”

Councilman Roger Aceves said that defaulting to state law would create consistency among different communities.

“The communities have to be consistent. This bill was an attempt to recognize the pain of the tenants and the pain of the landlords that have to make mortgage payments on their property,” he said. “My concern is communities having different rules and having people get confused.”

All other cities in the county, with the exception of Santa Maria, set end dates for their ordinances and will be defaulting to AB 3088’s framework, according to Cai.

However, other council members didn’t think that consistency was the main issue at hand. They found it hard to envision a way tenants could pay the 25 percent of rent back if they are already suffering from severe financial loss.

“The need for consistency is overstated,” Councilman Stuart Kasdin said. “I understand the desire to try and find a middle ground and to say to landlords, ‘We know you’re suffering, too,’ but we’re talking about a couple of months here, and I don’t want to see evictions at this time.”

“When we boil it down, it’s a choice between consistency and continuity,” Kyriaco said. “I come down on the side of continuity.”

The final vote came to three out of five council members in favor of keeping the city’s existing ordinance, with Aceves and Richards in opposition. 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council appointed two council members to an ad hoc committee to support and advise staff on the development of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan. Aceves and Kyriaco were nominated to be advisers for the committee.

The focus of the initiative will be to collect data and information to develop a comprehensive plan that is specific to the city’s needs and includes its goals and objectives, according to Assistant City Manager Kristy Schmidt. 

Particular focus areas of the plan include employment, communications, government participation, public safety and emergency planning, public contracting/leases, equitable development, direct service provision, and access to public facilities, she added.

“I think that this is an important conversation that we really need to have. So many of the decisions and actions of our city staff and elected officials bleed out locally into the community,” Kyriaco said. “I’m excited to be going down this path. I’m excited that we’re going to have an ad hoc committee.”

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.