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December 11, 2023

Mushroom fest canceled; county protects renters

Another week of the novel coronavirus’ spread throughout Santa Clara County and beyond has brought another week of closures, cancellations and a search for some relief for locals who may be impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Organizers for the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras announced March 24 that the event will not take place this year. The festival is typically scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, which is May 23-24 this year. The event would have taken place on the grounds of the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center and adjacent downtown side streets.

“After much consideration of new recommendations by the CDC regarding events/festivals within the next eight weeks and an attendance of 50 or more, we have made the heartbreaking decision to cancel the 2020 Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras Festival,” reads a statement from Mushroom Mardi Gras organizers. “Please know that this was a very difficult decision and we did not take it lightly. Public health and safety are our utmost concern.”

That cancellation followed the announcement late last week that the Gilroy Garlic Festival will not take place in 2020, also due to coronavirus concerns and stay-at-home advisories issued by the county and supported by national health experts.

Over the last week, Morgan Hill residents and businesses have been trying to cope with a shelter-at-home order issued last week by the state as well as the health officers of six Bay Area counties. Restaurants have struggled to make ends meet with only delivery and takeout service permitted. Students have stayed home with parents who are out of work or telecommuting during the crisis.

As of March 25, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department reported that 17 residents have died from COVID-19 or complications arising from the illness. Confirmed cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus totaled 459 on March 25.

Also this week, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office revealed that four deputies and one inmate at the main jail tested positive for COVID-19. It was not immediately clear if these cases are directly related.

And local public agencies, nonprofits and donors have ramped up their efforts to bring some relief for residents and businesses who are likely to find it increasingly difficult to pay their bills as long as “social distancing” recommendations and shelter-at-home orders are active.

Relief for renters

On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a countywide moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 public health crisis. The moratorium applies to all 15 cities within the county.

The ordinance prohibits evictions for failure to pay rent for tenants who are financially affected by the pandemic, according to County Supervisor Joe Simitian. Renters who can document “substantial loss” as a result of the public health crisis are protected by the moratorium, which applies to both residential and small business rentals.

The moratorium lasts through May 31, according to Simitian’s office.

The supervisors also approved a contribution of $2 million to the Destination:Home coronavirus relief fund to assist renters and low-income residents in maintaining their housing and covering basic expenses while they are unable to work. The fund was launched March 23 by the Santa Clara County Homeless Prevention System, with $11 million in contributions from nonprofits and businesses in Silicon Valley.

A moratorium or some kind of relief for renters was also a topic at a special called Morgan Hill City Council meeting March 23, less than a day before the county supervisors approved the moratorium. On a motion from City Council member Larry Carr, the council unanimously approved the concept of a moratorium on evictions if the supervisors failed to approve the countywide item the next day.

With the supervisors’ approval, a similar ordinance applying solely to renters within the city limits is unlikely, unless the council decides to add protections beyond what the county has established.

City Attorney Don Larkin explained to the council that a local eviction moratorium presents the risk that the city could ultimately be on the hook for back rent if a landlord loses rental income as a result of such an ordinance.

Council members and city staff at the March 23 meeting discussed a wide range of topics related to ongoing stay-at-home orders and their potential impact on local residents and business owners.

Many city staff members have been furloughed due to the stay-at-home order and prohibition on activity not designated as “essential business,” according to City Manager Christina Turner. Many of these employees have sick leave and vacation time built up that they can use while furloughed. In some cases, the city is allowing staff members to “go negative” in their leave hours if they don’t have enough to last through the current lockdown, Turner said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide shelter-at-home order last week, but did not say when the order would be lifted. The directive could be in place for at least three weeks, requiring all residents to stay at home except for essential business.

The definition of essential business was a brief topic of discussion at the March 23 council meeting. Police Chief David Swing said the police department has not issued any citations or made any arrests for violation of the health orders. However, officers have verbally advised some residents who have been observed gathering in large groups or flouting “social distancing” guidelines.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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