Officials in March ordered would-be shoppers to stay at home. (Matthew Hall)

Santa Monica put a temporary moratorium on commercial evictions Wednesday after local officials ordered many businesses to close Monday to slow the spread of coronavirus, evaporating revenue needed to pay workers, rent and utilities.

City Manager Rick Cole signed an emergency order Wednesday morning prohibiting landlords from evicting businesses through Apr. 30 if they have been financially impacted by coronavirus. The city also announced a suspension of Ellis Act evictions, Big Blue Bus fares and late fees on the taxes and fees it collects from businesses.

The order follows a suspension on residential evictions Cole signed Saturday that includes a temporary ban on water and sewer shutoffs and a Monday order suspending preferential parking and street sweeping. The orders could be extended if the coronavirus pandemic lasts longer than the next six weeks, he said.

“To avoid termination of tenancy and evictions due to nonpayment of rent, tenants must still show their landlord that they are losing income because of the COVID-19 crisis,” said city spokesperson Constance Farrell.

Cole said residential and commercial tenants are still liable for rent and must pay it back after the local outbreak is over. He said renters could be aided by state and federal funds to assist workers and businesses during the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

“We don’t have the power to waive rents,” he said.

Even before Santa Monica went into lockdown Monday, businesses were already losing money and those that have not been ordered to close will continue to suffer the impacts of mandated social distancing for weeks or months.

Santa Monica’s tourist-serving businesses, including hotels, restaurants and attractions, have been hard-hit by coronavirus’ impact on travel demand domestically and internationally even before President Donald Trump banned travel from Europe last week, said Misti Kerns, president and CEO of Santa Monica Travel & Tourism. Hotels nationwide are in the single digits of occupancy, she said.

“It is important to recall that we were headed into an economic slowdown prior to this pandemic,” she said. “How quickly businesses recover is the important question and will likely depend in many ways on how much government assistance is offered.”

Kerns said she expects that once it is safe to do so, people will again want to travel and book vacations.

“We expect the recovery will parallel previous pandemics in the rapid nature of returning revenue tied to pent-up traveler demand,” she said.

In the meantime, she said, Santa Monicans can support local businesses by buying gift cards, ordering takeout, taking advantage of virtual classes being offered by many gyms and booking a future stay-cation.

Cole said the city is trying to help restaurant continue serving takeout and delivery by authorizing restaurants to bag parking meters in front of their businesses to create drop-off zones. The city is also planning an “Eat Local SM” campaign to encourage residents under self-isolation to continue ordering food.

“It takes some pressure off our grocery stores, which have been ground zero for counterproductive panic,” Cole said. “It means more job stability for restaurant workers, more economic stability for restaurants and some nutritious and readily available food options for particularly the older population and folks with health conditions.”

A list of resources for local businesses, including loans of up to $2 million from the Small Business Administration for businesses hit hard by coronavirus, can be found at www.santamonica.gov/coronavirus-business-resources.

This article was updated Mar. 18 at 4 p.m.

madeleine@smdp.com

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