Amid Pandemic Hardship, Two New Laws Expand Mental Health Coverage?

By Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media  

 Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two bills into law that expand mental health coverage in California.  

?The bills I am signing today will help Californians access the behavioral health services they need to recover,? Gov. Newsom said. ?Earlier this year, I pledged to put these critical services within reach of more Californians, through reforming our Mental Health Services Act and laws that allow loved ones and service providers to ask courts to compel those who need treatment into community-based outpatient care. Today, we do just that.? 

SB 855 passed through the state legislature on the last day of the session and was signed into law Sept. 25. The bill requires health insurance companies to provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment deemed medically necessary.  

?It?s time for every Californian to have access to comprehensive and preventative mental and physical health care. SB 855 is a big step toward ensuring that in California, mental health is taken as seriously as physical health. It?s time for insurance companies to fully cover this essential treatment,? said State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). 

SB 855 was co-authored by Wiener, State Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), chair of the Mental Health Caucus, and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). 

This new law comes at a time when many Californians have faced mental health challenges due to psychological stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, released Aug. 14, found that 40 % of respondents reported struggling with an adverse mental health condition in late June. Out of about 5,400 respondents 30 % experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression and 13 % had started or increased substance use to cope with emotions related to the pandemic. 

According to the CDC survey, psychological stressors have a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown people, essential workers, unpaid caregivers and young adults. Also, low-wage earners were experiencing more anxiety and depression than high-wage earners. 

?Unfortunately, there are gaps in the law that have allowed insurance companies to deny what is clearly medically necessary coverage for people experiencing mental health and addiction challenges,? said Senator Wiener earlier this month. 

There has been a long history of health insurance plans providing better coverage for physical illness than for mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, although federal parity law requires that coverage for mental health and substance-use disorders must be comparable to physical health coverage, the law does not require that all plans include mental health and substance abuse coverage. Also, a health insurance plan is allowed to exclude certain diagnoses.  

The same day, the governor signed another bill, AB 1976, into law. That legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), expands the use of court-ordered outpatient treatment at the county level. It also prohibits counties from downsizing those programs. 

?The Assisted Outpatient Treatment demonstration project started by Laura?s Law has shown for many years that we have the tools to provide effective, community-based mental health treatment to those with the greatest need. As a social worker I?ve long fought for the extension of these critical services and expanding this program. Finally making it permanent will ensure greater care for the people of California,? said Eggman. 

Supporters of both bills praised the governor for signing them. Many of them joined Eggman in pointing out that the new policies are long overdue. 

?No one should have to suffer from mental illness or substance use disorder without support, resources and medical care. No one should have to forego mental healthcare until they?ve deteriorated to the point where they?re in crisis and in the ER. And no one should have to go into debt to pay for substance use disorder or mental health treatment,? Wiener said in his statement.  

Rev. Terry Brown to be Installed Pastor at Judson Baptist Church

Staff

      In April, the L.A. faith community mourned the loss of Pastor Dr. Johnny Baylor,

noted preacher, founder and senior pastor of the Carson-based Judson Baptist Church. Under Baylor?s leadership, the church ? which he dubbed as ?the assignment of his life?? transitioned in just 18 months to a thriving congregation of upwards of 500 active members.

      ?Dr. Baylor was a combination of street submitted to the spirit of God. He was raw and real, but he was also one of the finest exegetists this nation has ever known,? said Pastor Terry Brown, who was hand appointed by Baylor as his successor.

      It was last August that Baylor?who?d recently discovered the medical odds of his condition?reached out to Brown.

      ?When we spoke in August, the relationship had already begun to be closer and deeper,? Brown stated. ?It was just in August that he was at a point where he wanted me to know that if anything would happen to him, he wanted me to succeed him as pastor.

      ?I was in a state of disbelief. I was humbled. Still Am. Honored. Still am,? Baylor expressed. ?And really, I felt like if it happened, it would be way down the road, a few years down the road. I had no way of knowing that he would pass within several months of him sharing that with me. So, it was just an overwhelming experience.? Brown took over in April? during the onslaught of the global pandemic and says the transition has gone better than he could have expected.

      ?It has been tremendous. Granted, all ministry is difficult and challenging during this COVID season. I have not yet been able to meet physically with the whole church, but they have been the sweetest, kindest people. The obvious evidence of their love for him and certainly their love for God was that they received me without question. I?m sure some people had questions and some people said this or that, but in terms of what has been communicated to me, there has never been any dissension.?

      Now, on October 25, Brown is set to be officially installed as the pastor.

      ?Obviously, for every pastor and church, the installation represents the new relationship that God has ordained, so I have three pastors who will be sharing with me virtually,? Brown explained. Bishop Timothy Clarke of Columbus, Ohio will be giving the charge to the pastors. Bishop Michael Kelsey will be giving the charge to the church and Bishop James Dixon of Houston will be bringing the message.

      Brown says that no one can fill Pastor Baylor?s shoes, but he is ready to take up the mantle that Baylor entrust- ed him with.

????? ?His [Baylor?s] footprint is large, and my goal is not to try to fit or fill his shoes. My goal is to walk the path that God has predestined me to follow,? Brown explained. ?I?ve learned from Pastor Baylor. He knew me. He knew that I had my own vision. Dr. Baylor laid a strong foundation. my goal is to lead this church into deeper vistas that he had already set into motion pursuing the kingdom of God and playing our role in the kingdom. In every aspect that we live life, we want to be a part of lifting and loving the community. ?????????????????

?Ironically enough, Brown?who still serves as senior pas- tor of the Liberty Baptist Church?will be celebrating his 15th pastoral appreciation on October 18?just one week prior to his installation and his younger brother, Pastor Steven Brown (of Houston) will be serving as the guest preacher.

Joe Biden Expands His Lead in Key Polls as Election Day Nears

Staff

Following his COVID-19 diagnosis and role in what some are calling the worst presidential debate of all time, President Donald Trump is now trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in several key polls. 

According to a new CNBC/Change Research poll, Biden garners 50 percent of support compared to Trump?s 45 percent in crucial states like Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The poll surveyed 2,688 likely voters in the six states over the weekend as news rolled in about the president?s condition.

In a recent nationwide CNN poll, it was concluded that Biden now holds the largest lead of the cycle. Among likely voters, 57 percent said they support Biden while 41 percent backed Trump. The poll also revealed that voters prefer Biden when it comes to a number of issues including the coronavirus outbreak (59 percent prefer Biden, 38 percent Trump), health care (59 percent to 39 percent), racial injustice in America (62 percent to 36 percent), nominations to the Supreme Court (57 percent to 41 percent) and crime and safety (55 percent to 43 percent).

Voters also believe Biden is a candidate who would unite the country (61 percent Biden to 33 percent Trump), who is honest and trustworthy (58 percent Biden to 33 percent Trump), who cares about people like you (58 percent Biden to 38 percent Trump), who has a clear plan to solve the nation’s problems (55 percent to 39 percent) and who would keep Americans safe from harm (55 percent to 43 percent).

Biden also has a 14-point lead over Trump in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The Democratic nominee leads Trump 53 percent to 39 percent among registered voters. This survey was taken after the first presidential debate between the two, but before news of Trump?s positive COVID-19 results – proving that the chaotic debate had a direct impact on Trump?s standing with the American people.

The polls also reflect public opinion on Trump?s handling of his own diagnosis and overall attitude toward the severity of the coronavirus. Trump was released from Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday after contracting COVID-19. His doctor, Navy Cdr. Sean Conley, said that Trump isn?t completely ?out of the woods? for another week but that ?he?s back.? The president tweeted about his release, saying that citizens shouldn?t fear the coronavirus. 

?I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don?t be afraid of Covid. Don?t let it dominate your life. … I feel better than I did 20 years ago!? Trump tweeted.

Doctors and epidemiologists expressed the danger of Trump making statements that could lead to people not taking the virus seriously and downplaying its effects.

?It?s an unconscionable message,? said Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. ?I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread.?

A majority of the public also appear to be dissatisfied with the president?s actions. The CNBC poll revealed that 39 percent of those surveyed think Trump took the appropriate precautions to prevent himself from getting exposed to the virus, while 55 percent said he failed to do so. In contrast, 75 percent said they believe Biden has taken the right steps to avoid exposure. 

Since the news broke on Oct. 1 that Trump and his wife Melania Trump tested positive for the virus, several family members and government officials who’ve been in close proximity to him have been tested. Mike Pence and Joe Biden have both tested negative. 

Other cases in and around the White House include top Trump adviser Hope Hicks, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Trump body man Nick Luna, an unnamed press staffer, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Republican Sens. Thom Tillis, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson.

Trump appears to be adamant about continuing his campaign as planned but many are questioning how the recent uptick in government cases will impact the election and debates. A source within the Biden campaign confirmed that the Commission on Presidential Debates approved plexiglass barriers at the vice-presidential debate between Pence and Kamala Harris on Wednesday. 

The Trump campaign said that the president plans to still participate in the next presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 15.

Democrats Bet on Kamala Harris in Upcoming Debate

Christal Mims, Staff

After a tumultuous first presidential debate between democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, democrats are placing their hope in senator and vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris. Harris will take on Vice President Mike Pence during their first and only debate this month.

The American people benefitted from a very clear contrast, Harris said of the first presidential debate. On one hand you have Joe talking directly into the camera, trying to bring some semblance of maturity to a conversation with a county that is in the midst of at least three major crises at a proportion that weve not experienced in generations on the other hand, you have Donald Trump who spent the whole time interrupting, bullying the moderator and lying to the American people.

A former prosecutor and participant in the democratic primaries, Harris is well-equipped to handle a debate stage – a trait that democrats are banking on to take down Pence.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confidence in Harris and her ability to discuss key issues effectively – but also had a word of advice.

She has to modulate her responses because we know there still is a double standard alive and well when it comes to women in politics, Clinton said. She’s got to be firm and effective in rebutting any implication that comes from the other side, but to do it in a way that doesn’t scare or alienate voters.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters says that Harris ambition is the most admirable thing about her, and she shouldnt worry about the public calling her names or talking down on her simply because she is displaying the characteristics of a strong woman.

Shes prepared and she will deal with it, and she knows how to deal with it, Congresswoman Waters said. For those of us who are confident that we are capable and that we deserve opportunity, we dont let that stop us from pursuing our goals. We have missions that weve defined for ourselves and we continue to work on those missions.

Senator Bernie Sanders believes that Pence has his work cut out for him if hes going to defeat Harris in the debate.

I believe that Kamala, as somebody who has known her for a number of years, is incredibly smart, tough, and I would not want to be Vice-President (Mike) Pence in a debate with her, Sanders said.

Experts are saying that there is a weight placed on the vice-presidential debate more than ever before as the nation is anxious to see if they will be able to get a more direct and clearer standpoint from each candidate.

There is a weight that’s placed on Mike Pence and Kamala Harris to demonstrate that there is still something useful about two people meeting in the public square and having an exchange of ideas because that’s at the heart of this grand democratic experiment that we have, said Ed Lee, of Emory University’s Alben W. Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation and Dialogue. That usually is not placed on a vice presidential debate.

University of Georgia head debate coach Shunta Jordan thinks that anything is better than the screaming and disrespect that the U.S. witnessed during the first presidential debate.

I don’t expect either candidate to back down but am confident in saying we won’t see the disgrace and embarrassment of (Tuesday), she said. I expect to hear more argumentation and refutation. I expect to hear each candidate discuss actual policy or what needs to be the priority in America moving forward.

Many have noted that Pence is generally level-headed and will most likely not come close to the way Trump acted in the first debate. He is said to be practicing his approach to the debate and will focus on the Trump administration’s accomplishments and the key differences between his team and their democratic opponents.

Harris says that she will treat Pence with respect but will not tolerate blatant lies being told to the American people.

Im also not going to stand by quietly if he, in whatever tone of voice, delivers lies, Harris explained. Joe and I have a lot in common, and one of them is that we dont back down from a good fight if its a fight worth having.

Latest Vigil for Breonna Taylor Puts Spotlight on Black Women as Endangered Species

Stephen Oduntan, Staff

A small crowd gathered outside the Laugh Factory Monday evening for a candlelight vigil in memory of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old black woman who was fatally shot during a botched police raid in her apartment.

In between chants and music, Shannon Morton, the founder of Black Women Lead and the organizer of the vigil, took the megaphone, saying, ?Breonna Taylor is important. She should be here. Breonna Taylor is me. She?s my cousin. She?s my friend. She is everybody who I ever loved.?

Ka, a 25-year-old woman who would only give her first name, attended the vigil, which took place at 7: 30 pm near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in Hollywood.

?A visual for Breonna Taylor is super important because we?re honoring her spirit. Her spirit is still with us. Black people are a people of spirit and rhythm so that?s why we?re playing music. She?s still with us. Even though she didn?t get justice, we?re still out here in her name. We?ll never stop being out here,? Ka said.

Ivy Coco Maurice, of Walk Good LA, also spoke to the crowd.

?Black women,? she said. ?We are an endangered species and they?re killing us like flies. Black women have always been at the forefront of every revolution, and it?s time for everybody to stand at the forefront for us as well. That?s why when it comes down to the polls come November, don?t just vote for yourself. You are voting for Breonna Taylor. You are voting for Sandra Bland. Vote for the Black woman Kamala Harris.?

The crowd applauded.

Attendees blocked off the roadway, sitting in the middle of the road, and gave a moment of silence in Taylor?s memory for about three minutes. Many sat with lit candles beside them.

?In this quest for justice for the slain, let?s not forget the mothers. Black women and Black mothers, we bear so much of the pain. When I think about Breonna being shot in her bed, the first thing I think about is her mother. Black mothers are at the forefront of the healing process that not only America but also Black America has to deal with,? said Angelina Spicer, a comedian-actress and self-described accidental activist. 

Spicer called on the attendees to turn grief into action.

?We?ve been marching, we?ve been protesting, we?ve been gathering for months now, and the fact that you all are here means so much to me because you realize without our collective voices nothing will change,? she said.

At the end of Spicer?s ten minutes speech, she thanked everyone for attending the vigil and said, ?Black lives matter,? and the crowd called back a roar of ?Black lives matter.?

By 9: 30 p.m., it all seemed to be over. Participants reopened the street, traffic returned to normal, and the crowd dispersed.

Michael Jordan Forms NASCAR Team, Secures Bubba Wallace as Driver

Staff

            Basketball legend Michael Jordan is the newest NASCAR team owner. The 57-year-old will oversee a NASCAR Cup Series team with the only Black, NASCAR top racer, Bubba Wallace, as a featured driver. Jordan will be the majority owner while NASCAR’s Denny Hamlin will serve as a minority owner.

            “Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” said Jordan in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me. Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”

            Jordan says he wants to educate a new audience and open up more opportunities for Black people in racing, something he believes will be possible with Wallace by his side.

            “I think (Bubba) has the potential to be (a champion). If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t get into this,” Jordan said. “Luck has a lot of do (with winning) in a lot of sports. But if you feel you have the same knowledge and the same equipment, you give yourself a chance. Then it’s all up to the driver.”

            Many are excited to see Jordan and Wallace diversify a sport that has historically lacked Black representation.

            “A lot of what I call closet NASCAR fans are Black fans,” said Bill Lester, who for years was the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top series. “Now with Jordan opening the door to the sport, I think that that’s going to go a long way.”

            Wallace will get behind the wheel for the new team in the 2021 NASCAR Cup series.

More than 1,600 Californians have been evicted during pandemic

By Matt Levin, Nigel Duara and Erica Yee, Cal Matters

Like any parent, Jamie Burson didn’t want her 11-year-old son to discover how frightened she really was about the novel coronavirus. But it’s hard to mask anxiety when you’re living and sleeping together in the same car.

After Burson was evicted from her two bedroom apartment in Vacaville the second week of April, she heeded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to shelter in place by cooping up in a two-door sedan near her Walmart job. With school campuses shuttered, her son propped his school-issued laptop on top of the glovebox and attended class in the same passenger seat he slept in. It helped that he could occasionally spend a night at a relative’s or friend’s house, although Burson hesitated to ask to sleep there herself, partly out of fear of spreading the virus to friends and family.

“I was scared because of how many people were dying on a daily basis,” said Burson, who was evicted for a late February rent payment. “Made me feel like mankind was going to go extinct. I’ve never lived to see any type of disease take people out the way this one has.” 

More than 1,600 California households like Burson’s have been evicted since Newsom declared a statewide state of emergency March 4, according to data CalMatters obtained via public record requests from more than 40 California sheriffs’ departments. Nearly a third of those evictions took place after Newsom’s March 19 shelter-in-place order, and more than 400 since Newsom issued a self-described March 27 “eviction moratorium.” 

The 1,600 evictions are likely a significant undercount of how many renters have been forced to leave their homes since the pandemic struck, as both court-sanctioned and informal evictions often do not show up on the sheriffs’ lockout lists obtained by CalMatters. Additionally, sheriffs’ departments in 14 counties did not respond to data requests; more than 14 million Californians live in those counties, including Los Angeles County with 10 million residents.

Newsom’s moratorium — which tenant groups criticized as belated and inadequate — focused on delaying eviction cases related to financial hardship from the pandemic until May 31. An April 6 emergency rule passed by the Judicial Council, the governing body for the state court system, went further, halting nearly all eviction court proceedings in California. 

But neither Newsom’s executive orders nor the Judicial Council rule addressed a major subset of eviction cases: tenants like Burson who already lost in court, often for missed rent payments in February or March, and were simply waiting on sheriffs’ deputies to lock them out. Federal eviction moratoria also did not stop these evictions. 

As state lawmakers scramble to find a solution for a looming “eviction wave” when courts reopen as early as this month, tenant groups and public health experts warn that the loophole in state protections continues to endanger renters who may become homeless or move into unsafe and overcrowded housing. 

Just last week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department resumed serving its backlog of nearly 1,000 scheduled eviction lockouts, even as the county remains on a state watchlist for surging coronavirus cases. When performing eviction lockouts in the past few months, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies encountered two separate households where tenants claimed they were quarantining because of COVID-19, according to a sheriff’s spokesperson. Those households were allowed to complete their quarantine before being evicted. 

“(These evictions) could have been prevented, and it really is distressing to hear that this many people have been evicted when we have these shelter-in-place orders,” said Madeline Howard, senior staff attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which has lobbied for tighter eviction protections during the pandemic.

Unclear authority

Burson now stays in a one-bedroom motel room in Fairfield, paid for by a temporary Solano County homelessness program. She’s unsure where she’ll live once the program ends this week.

She was evicted because of a late February rent payment, lost the eviction lawsuit by default when she says she misunderstood how to respond within the legally required five-day window, and was given until early April to vacate the property. She left before she thought law enforcement was scheduled to lock her out.

While she understands that it was technically within her landlord’s right to kick her out, she wonders why the eviction wasn’t postponed. 

“Why wasn’t everything set aside, period?” said Burson, who had been living in the Vacaville apartment more than a year.

ROEM Development Corporation, owner of the apartment complex from which Burson was evicted, and FPI Management, the building’s property management company, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Upon being informed by CalMatters that Burson was no longer occupying the apartment, Todd Rothbard, the landlord attorney who represented ROEM in the eviction lawsuit, said his firm would consider no longer contesting a legal motion Burson had filed to remove the eviction from her record. Evictions stay on tenant records for seven years, and can make it very difficult for renters to find another place to live. 

But although Rothbard sympathizes with some tenants, he pushed back on the notion that Burson should not have been evicted in the first place. 

“Life can be hard,” Rothbard said. “To the extent people need help, it’s nice to see when society is able to provide help. But it is somewhat unfair to say to a landlord who is in business ‘Hey, it’s now your obligation to support this person.’  Because it’s not.” 

Rothbard also said Newsom and the Judicial Council have already overstepped their constitutional powers by the eviction protections they’ve mandated. Instructing sheriffs to not perform eviction lockouts would likely be challenged in court. 

Some constitutional law experts say it’s at best unclear what is and isn’t within Newsom’s power when it comes to “enforcing writs” in eviction cases — legalese for court orders to sheriffs’ departments to perform lockouts. Separation of powers between the court system and the executive branch complicate his authority. 

“While a governor possesses broad authority under the Emergency Services Act to respond to the pandemic, directing county sheriffs to disobey or slow-walk lawful court orders is beyond a governor’s emergency powers,” said Stephen Duvernay, a senior research fellow at UC Berkeley’s California Constitution Center.

But pro-tenant attorneys disagree, arguing Newsom has remarkable powers during public emergencies — powers they urged the governor to deploy in early March as the first reports of hospitalizations and deaths mounted.

Navneet Grewal, litigation counsel for Disability Rights California, said that there was nothing legally restraining Newsom from ordering sheriffs to stop performing evictions for cases that pre-dated the pandemic. Newsom had included such a provision in one of his executive orders, although it only applied to cases where tenants could demonstrate financial hardship because of the virus.  

“I think part of the unique thing here really is that there is no precedent of the situation that we’re in,” Grewal said. “There’s clearly a lot of broad powers to deal with emergencies; we just haven’t had an emergency like this in our lifetime.”

The Newsom administration declined multiple requests for comment. 

Tenant groups also approached Attorney General Xavier Becerra to intervene.

“The reports of ongoing evictions in communities across the state and in the midst of the public health crisis are profoundly troubling,” Becerra’s press office said in an emailed statement. “Our office does not have the authority to direct Sheriffs to refuse to comply with lawful orders issued by Courts hearing eviction cases.” 

But pro-tenant lawyers say Becerra is constitutionally empowered to oversee how local law enforcement executes court orders. 

“I think the attorney general seems to have some priorities that are focused on dealing with the Trump administration, which are obviously very important,” Howard said. “But some of these very important issues are not getting addressed.”

Sheriff choices

On the morning of March 19, Sgt. Lydia Montoya anxiously awaited an announcement from the governor. She had heard news reports that a shelter-in-place order was coming. 

The civil unit she oversees at the Kings County Sheriff’s Department had performed three evictions already that day, which they believed they were legally obligated to carry out. But Montoya and other officers in the department harbored concerns about the potential health risks — to the community and the deputies themselves — of pushing renters onto the street. 

When Newsom issued the shelter-in-place order that afternoon, Montoya believed she had the legal justification she needed to stop evicting people. Conferring with a county attorney and the publicly elected sheriff, the department decided to stop performing eviction lockouts except in emergency cases that threatened public health and safety. Six evictions on their calendar have been indefinitely postponed. If the shelter-in-place order had come a day earlier, so would the three performed the morning of the 19th.  

“The (shelter-in-place) order implies that it is a public safety issue to have people out and about,” said Montoya, who also supplied her deputies with handmade masks before her department acquired personal protective equipment. “And certainly evicting people, them out and about looking for rentals or whatnot, or making them homeless, is not in line with his shelter-in-place order.” 

But not every California sheriff’s department shared Kings County’s interpretation of the governor’s executive order. Without clear guidance from the state, individual sheriffs’ departments were left to choose whether to continue with evictions already on their lockout calendars. 

Many did just that. According to data obtained by CalMatters, three counties in the Inland Empire and Central Valley led the pack: San Bernardino, with 135 evictions since shelter-in-place; Riverside, with 93; and Kern County, with 68. 

“It was a combination of considerations looking at both sides, obviously with the stay-at-home orders as well as the other side of the actual landlords and the people that own the property and their ability to make rent, pay bills and things like that,” said Adam Plugge, a commander at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office that oversees its eviction unit.

After Kern County sheriff’s deputies paused lockouts in late March, Plugge said his department fielded phone calls and emails from frustrated landlords and attorneys, including those referred his way from local elected officials. The lockouts resumed in April. 

Plugge said that an explicit directive from the state would have avoided considerable confusion.

“It would have made decisions a lot easier to decide whether or not something could be done, and I think it would have been clearer for the public as well going forward in any shape, fashion or form,” Plugge said.

Evicting without masks

On July 1, deputies from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department showed up at 7886 Myrtle Avenue in Eureka to tell Ernie Bull and Mary Wildman the two had to leave.

Bull, 59, had lost a dispute with his step-brother about who should inherit the property he had been living at with his late father and step-mother. Bull said he missed a key court date because he accidentally dialed into the wrong Zoom number for a remote court hearing. Humboldt County Superior Court stopped in-person hearings because of coronavirus.

A group of Wildman’s friends were there to help them with the move. While some of their friends wore masks, Bull and Wildman didn’t — and neither did the sheriff’s deputies who came to evict them. 

“If we can socially distance six feet away, then we’re not going to wear a mask,” said Lt. Mike Fridley, who oversees the department’s eviction unit. 

While he couldn’t speak to the specifics of Bull and Wildman’s eviction, Fridley said that his deputies carry masks with them, and can put them on at their own discretion. Wearing masks makes it difficult for the deputies to use their radios, he said.

Like most sheriffs’ departments, Humboldt County deputies typically perform multiple lockouts on the same day at different addresses. On the day they evicted Bull and Wildman, three other addresses were scheduled for lockouts, according to sheriff’s department documents. 

Asked if he believed there was a health risk in performing multiple evictions on the same day, Fridley said “I wouldn’t see any more risk than five people going to the cashier’s line in Costco.” 

Dr. Margot Kushel, director at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, said she knows of no documented case of sheriffs’ deputies spreading coronavirus through eviction lockouts. But she does fear a “nightmare scenario.” 

“If you had a situation where there was a group of deputies going into different people’s households in a highly charged atmosphere, where people might be upset and might be yelling, I think you could potentially have risks for both the deputies going in and for the households being evicted,” Kushel said. 

Other sheriffs’ departments interviewed for this story say they require deputies to wear protective gear while performing lockouts. 

Neither Bull nor Wildman — who has kidney problems — have shown symptoms of the coronavirus since the eviction. Wildman has been staying at a friend’s place, while Bull has slept outside. 

“I want to stay away from people. I’m scared,” said Bull. “I gotta admit, I’m scared.”

Landlord costs

Of course, keeping tenants in a unit for multiple months while they can’t pay rent has a cost. For Karen Clark, that cost is $10,000 — and the fear of falling behind on her mortgage. 

Clark, who owns and lives in a triplex in walking distance from the University of Southern California, rents one of her units to a single father and his twin teenage daughters. She was charging $2,400 for the unit — a deal she said was well below market value for the three-bed, three-bath home near downtown Los Angeles. 

“I just really liked them and I wanted to help them,” said Clark, who preferred the stability of renting to families instead of students. 

Her tenant began to fall behind in his rent payments last fall when his catering business began to decline, according to Clark. Then COVID-19 hit this spring — evaporating most of what remained of her tenant’s income and, along with it, the rent.

Clark said she had seriously considered evicting the tenant in March, but never filed the necessary paperwork with a court. Now those courts are closed to new eviction cases, and Clark said she has been digging into her savings to pay for utilities and other costs. She has explored forbearance options on her mortgage, but was scared of the prospect of a lump-sum payment due at the end of the forbearance period. 

“I don’t know what to do,” said Clark, who has kept her job working at City National Bank during the pandemic. “I’ve got to get my cash back. I went through some of my savings, now I’m robbing other bills. It’s just not gonna give forever.” 

Clark helps financially support her son and grandchild in Oregon, and rents her other unit to her daughter and son-in-law. When courts resume eviction proceedings, she plans on filing.

Stopgap measures

While sheriffs’ departments across the state continue evictions for cases that pre-date the pandemic, Newsom and state lawmakers are scrambling to head off what experts say is a looming “eviction wave” of tenants who have lost their income because of COVID-19. A UC Berkeley analysis found that as of June, nearly 1 million renter heads of households in California lost their job because of COVID-19. 

Two proposals to compensate landlords and prevent more evictions are making their way through the Legislature, but both face daunting questions about how they’ll actually work. 

California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who chairs the state Judicial Council, said the state court system could resume eviction proceedings as early as Aug. 14th. If tenants contest them, proceedings can take weeks. Because supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week expired last month, tenants groups fear swelling ranks of renters unable to afford a roof over their heads. 

Unless the state intervenes or a new round of federal support is extended, 24-year old Gabriella Aldana is one of those at-risk renters, and could be evicted for the second time since the virus hit California.

Just before 10 a.m. on March 26, three Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies banged on Aldana’s front door. None of the deputies wore a mask, she said, and they told her she had to leave the premises with her two children, ages 6 and 3. The family was permitted to take only what they could carry. 

Aldana, then two months pregnant, and her two children piled what they could into her 2013 Honda Accord and drove off into a pandemic at a time when public health officials didn’t know much about the virus. 

She left her job at Walmart, she said, over fears of infecting her daughters or complicating her own pregnancy. The night of her eviction, she stayed in a hotel, then moved in for a few days with her parents. She eventually found a studio apartment for the April for $1170. After that, they moved into a two-bedroom duplex in downtown Riverside. The new place is beyond their current means, but also the only place that would accept Aldana, who said she has bad credit. 

She has survived on unemployment benefits and, especially, the $600 weekly federal unemployment boost. 

If the federal unemployment boost isn’t renewed by late August, Aldana and her children will likely once more be evicted. Even if she gets one of the jobs she’s interviewed for recently, her monthly take-home pay after taxes would be about $1,600. Her rent is $1,595.

“I have some savings to cover some of (rent) next month, I might look for a roommate if the job doesn’t come through and the (federal unemployment benefits) goes away,” Aldana said. “I have to start looking for all of that because now it’s just me.”

Leading Pastor Says Black Lives Matter Should Dialogue with the Black Church

Staff

      Bishop Clarence McClendon of the Inglewood-based Place of Grace says that while he is grateful that the Black Lives Matter movement has thrust the mantra of black lives into the national conversation, he believes there needs to be dialogue between the black church and Black Lives Matter and he is hoping to help facilitate it.

       “I believe that the prophetic community will welcome the Black Lives Matter movement,” McClendon said. “I’m not sure the Black Lives Matter movement will welcome the prophetic community, but I believe we are a voice among a multiplicity of voices that have to be heard, and I do not believe that there will be any substantial, long-lasting change without the prophetic community making the contribution to it.”

       To that end, McClendon says he is in the process of attempting to arrange such dialogues, though the pandemic has made it more challenging.

      “But,” he says, “I believe that those conversations need to happen and they need to happen now.

      “I have said it publicly, and will say again,” McClendon continued, “whether black lives matter to white people is immaterial to me. I understand and I’m grateful for the pushing of the mantra and the insertion of the mindset into the corporate consciousness of America, but whether black lives matter, doesn’t matter to me relative to people of European descent, because whales lives matter to them… The question is, is my black life equal to yours… because only if my life is equal to yours, will you take your foot off my neck when I say I can’t breathe. Only when my life is equal to yours, will what I say make any real difference in how you leave my presence and live your life.”

       He says the problems with movements is that they can become commercialized.

       “I see young Caucasian brothers and sisters saying black lives matter and holding BLM signs and do not understand the issues nor have a real concept of the substance.

       “I am not seeking reparations and have nothing against the people who are seeking reparations. If the U.S government starts handing out checks, I want them to know where my address is. But with the disenfranchisement that has been systemically perpetrated on people of color in this nation, this government cannot afford to pay me what they owe me.”

L.A. To Double Down on Businesses Defying COVID Safety Orders

      With California surpassing New York in Coronavirus cases, L.A. County health officials have said that they are stepping up enforcement on businesses that fail to comply with health orders imposed with the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 17,000 businesses has been investigated since the state first issued lockdown orders in mid-March.

      While most of the businesses—including restaurants, grocery stores and pools—have either come into compliance or are working to come into compliance, 100 businesses have been shut down.

      The department is set to begin issuing fines at the end of August. Fines range from $100 to $500 for the first offense. Repeated offenses may result in a 30-day business suspension.

      “This is an unprecedented public health emergency and we’re still learning and adapting as we navigate this crisis,” said L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, said. “COVID-19 is not going to disappear overnight. We all want our local businesses to be open and more people to get back to making a living and to thrive, but we all must operate responsibly. Business owners and operators are critical partners in slowing the spread of COVID-19. It protects their employees, it protects their customers and it helps the entire community.”

      To curtail unsafe business operations in the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, is deploying “business ambassadors” to advise or cite businesses that are not following COVID safety guidelines. The city received over 500 reports over the past two weeks of businesses not operating in compliance with health protocols.

California Churches Suing Governor Newsom Say They Have a Right to Sing

Three northern California churches are suing Governor Gavin Newsom in an attempt to overturn his ban on singing and chanting inside places of worship. On behalf of Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg and River of Life Church in Oroville, the lawsuit seeks an injunction against the state health department’s July 1 order that looks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

            The churches argue that Newsom unfairly targeted places of worship and didn’t enact the same guidelines for businesses and the ongoing protests that have swept the nation.

            “On or about July 2, 2020, following implementation of the Worship Ban, when asked to explain whether people should heed Newsom’s mandate and avoid large crowds and gatherings, Newsom refused to place the same restrictions on protesters and explained ‘we have a Constitution, we have a right to free speech,’ and further stated that ‘we are all dealing with a moment in our nation‘s history that is profound and pronounced … Do what you think is best,’” the lawsuit states.

            Public health officials and medical professionals have reiterated that there’s evidence that suggests talking and increased ventilation increase germ particles in the air, two occurrences that happen while singing. The officials suggest that these particles, should they contain COVID-19, can cause infection after lingering in the air for a time and then being ingested.

            Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) says that the governor’s order is unconstitutional. 

            “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power,” said Sekulowin in an announcement about the suit. “And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable.”

            Along with Tyler & Bursch, The National Center for Law and Policy and Advocates for Faith & Freedom, ACLJ acted as the churches’ legal team for the lawsuit and many of the attorneys have challenged Newsom’s past orders regarding places of worship during the pandemic. 

“Since the initiation of the lockdown, restrictive mandates in the state’s health orders have been applied to houses of worship unfairly and much more aggressively than other businesses arbitrarily deemed essential, including restaurants and other gatherings,” a press release from ACLJ reads.  

Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry Inc. filed an emergency request with a federal judge seeking a temporary restraining order that would halt the enforcement of Newsom’s ban on singing. The civil complaint states that the ban violates religious freedom and the “cherished liberties for which so many have fought and died.” The lawsuit also states that in times of distress ”congregants are to sing to the Lord even more and to sing aloud to him.”

As it stands, congregations are still being held to the guidelines of the order which state that no chanting or singing is allowed and all houses of worship are required to limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees.


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