Voices echoed throughout the Santa Clara Council Chambers. City employees removed nearly all the chairs, and the Council Members were seated at an increased distance on the dais because of concerns over coronavirus.
The measures were in response to a shelter in place order handed down in six counties, including Santa Clara County, Tuesday. The shelter in place order closes non-essential services in the county.
At the Council’s meeting Tuesday night, it ratified a local emergency ordinance.
City Manager Deanna Santana said the emergency status is to “help ensure continuation of essential services.”
With the exception of the Council and Stadium Authority, the City has cancelled government meetings through the end of April. It has also cancelled city events, closed libraries and community centers. Starting Tuesday, the City will only provide essential services, such as police, fire and utilities.
Public schools have already been closed to students and will remain closed until at least April 3.
Keeping the City running smoothly in the wake of the pandemic has been a challenge, Santana said, but the City is taking an “informed and aggressive approach.”
“We are working. We are rowing in the right direction,” she said.
Seventeen new cases identified Tuesday brings the number of people infected with COVID-19 in Santa Clara County to 155. The latest reports claim 273 — more than half the state’s total — are in the Bay Area.
In Santa Clara, one City employee, a police officer, tested positive for the virus.
The emergency requires City employees to assist with disaster services, even if it is outside their job description. Many called the situation “unprecedented.”
Several members of the Council said their main concern was people having enough to eat.
Council Member Kathy Watanabe told the Council she visited a school food distribution center that had 50 meals for families. Within 30 minutes, those meals were gone, she said.
Santana said the City is already working with the school district to get food out to the community.
“Some of the most vulnerable families in our community may have a parent or grandparent, that is taking care of the children, that may have lost their job,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor. “They could be on minimum wage jobs or low-paying jobs that are forced to stay home now with the children, and there is just not enough food in the house.”
Council Member Raj Chahal asked the Council to consider a moratorium on evictions in the City, similar to San Jose.
However, City Attorney Brian Doyle said there is “not much local jurisdictions can do” about that, but that “as a practical matter” landlords would likely have trouble evicting tenants because the courts are not likely to give such cases high priority. He asked landlords to work with tenants to solve issues of delinquent rent, saying it is the “last thing” renters need.
Both Gillmor and Santana brought up using the Convention Center, and Council Member Teresa O’Neill suggested people donate food to Second Harvest Food Bank, saying it is hard to “marshal resources without structure.”
“It is our responsibility to take care of our community, and the most basic thing our community needs right now is food,” Gillmor said.
The Council postponed the other items on agenda slated for discussion, including discussion of the Related Santa Clara development and a quarterly report from Silicon Valley Power, until its next meeting. The Council meets again March 24 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara. The shelter in place order is in effect until April 7.