Council warns it may close parks if people can’t keep their distance; also, business tax dropped

Palo Alto City Council held its meeting tonight, March 23, via the Zoom teleconference platform.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Altans need to keep their distance from people in parks, or the city might be forced to close them.

That was the message tonight from City Council, which met via Zoom, a video conference platform.

Council also put the brakes on a proposed business tax and moved to prevent the evictions of people who have lost their income because of COVID-19.

There were no technical problems but City Attorney Molly Stump had to tell the council they had to do a roll call vote, or all say yes one at a time to a motion, and not just all raise their hands over Zoom to vote.

At the start of the meeting, City Manager Ed Shikada announced that the city has closed playgrounds and tennis courts and will be restricting use of water fountains and restrooms at Foothills Park starting tomorrow to keep too many people from gathering.

Everyone in California is supposed to stay home unless they are going to the grocery store or seeing a doctor to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People are allowed to go hiking and biking outside but are supposed to stay at least six feet away from people that they don’t already live with.

Not everyone is protecting their personal space.

Mayor Adrian Fine said he visited the Baylands over the weekend and it was “pretty swamped.” He said Gov. Gavin Newsom has closed some parks and asked what it would take for the city to make a similar decision.

Shikada said Newsom has closed parking lots at parks, not the parks themselves.

Shikada said restricting bathrooms and drinking fountains are supposed to serve a similar purpose by thinning crowds. Shikada said that if those measures don’t control the crowds then park closure might be the next step.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who hiked at the Stanford Dish this morning, said she was pleased to see people reminding each other to stay six feet apart.

“While I think it does offend some people, I noticed people really complied and pretty quickly,” she said.

Council agreed to put a halt to the business tax that was proposed for the November ballot to raise money for rail crossing improvements. Shikada suggested halting the tax because local businesses have been hit hard as more people stay inside as a precaution against COVID-19.

“Small businesses such as restaurants and cafes have closed or are seeing precipitous declines in patronage while large companies face heightened uncertainty,” reads a memo from Shikada to the council.

Kniss said she thinks such a tax right now would be “adding insult to injury” for local businesses.

The council also passed an ordinance to prevent people from being evicted for not paying rent. In order to qualify, people must explain how COVID-19 has stopped them from paying rent. The rent must be paid back 120 days after the city’s COVID-19 council-declared emergency is over.

Fine said many people have sent letters in support of the ordinance even if they already own their own homes.

Councilman Greg Tanaka said the eviction moratorium could have the unintended consequence of harming mom-and-pop landlords who rely on rent money.

City Attorney Molly Stump said the critical health issue of not having people lose their housing is paramount in this crisis.

Council passed the eviction moratorium unanimously with Kniss recusing herself.

Kniss said many people have asked her, a former registered nurse, about getting tested for COVID-19. She said people need to have symptoms and a doctor’s order to get a test.

“It’s difficult to get the testing even though Stanford and the other health care facilities in our region are doing the best that they can,” she said.

Santa Clara County has reported 13 deaths while San Mateo County has reported one death. There are 321 diagnosed cases in Santa Clara County and 142 in San Mateo County but the actual numbers are probably higher because of the lack of testing.

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