Oakland declares public health emergency

Basil D. Soufi via Creative Commons

The skyline of Oakland

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to approve a resolution confirming former City Administrator Sabrina Landreth’s declaration of a public health emergency on Monday because of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The council’s action extends the emergency for up to another 60 days so the city can exercise emergency powers to address the coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19. Assistant City Administrator Ed Reiskin said the action will help the city acquire supplies and equipment to prevent the spread of the disease and seek reimbursement for the extra costs it expects to incur.

“This resolution is as much about preventing and preparing for the virus than for recovering from it. The public should not have cause for panic but cause for reassurance,” Reiskin said.

In a related matter concerning fears about the possible spreading of the virus at large public gatherings, many speakers at the meeting expressed concern about the large crowds of tenants, landlords, attorneys and court staff at eviction hearings at the Hayward Hall of Justice, where all such hearings in Alameda County are held.

Meghan Gordon, director and clinical supervisor of the housing practice at the East Bay Community Law Center, said crowds of 100 to 200 people often gather in close proximity in and outside the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney, who holds the eviction hearings. Gordon said the situation presents a public safety issue for all involved. But she said the problem exists because tenants and landlords need to appear in court to try to protect their rights.

Responding to the concerns that were expressed at the meeting, the City Council unanimously passed an emergency measure asking Alameda County Superior Court Presiding Judge Tara Desautels to delay all eviction hearings until April 7 for public safety reasons.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a letter to the City Council that in order to try to prevent the virus from spreading to homeless people, the city in partnership with Alameda County is nearly doubling the number of encampment sites, from 20 to 39, at which it will provide toilets, sanitizer and hand-washing stations. Schaaf said the city also is providing additional hand sanitizers at the 20 encampments that already are serviced with toilets and hygiene.

In her letter, Schaaf wrote, “At present, we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among our unsheltered population. We are taking major preventive steps, outline above, to help ensure that this remains the case.” Schaaf said in the event of an infection or outbreak among the city’s homeless population, the city will immediately work with the Alameda County Public Health Department “to follow protocols, up to an including revisions to our encampment closure process, provide appropriate access to quarantine and treatment.”

Wednesday was Landreth’s last day as city administrator and former Lafayette City Manager Steven Falk is now Oakland’s acting city administrator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *