By Emily Hoeven
A whopping 172 years after California joined the Union, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis on Thursday became the first woman in state history to sign a bill into law.
Kounalakis, who is serving as acting governor while Gov. Gavin Newsom is abroad on a family vacation, signed a bill to protect hundreds of thousands of renters from eviction hours after state lawmakers sent it to her desk and hours before the protections — which had already been extended twice — were set to expire.
Kounalakis wrote on Twitter: “I remain more determined than ever to ensure that while I may be the first (woman) to (sign a bill into law), I will certainly not be the last. … Today’s action will provide additional time to thousands more (renters) who are in the process of acquiring emergency relief.”
Under the new law, Californians who applied to the state’s backlogged pandemic rent relief program before 11:59 p.m. Thursday will be shielded from eviction through June 30, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. As of Tuesday, California had paid just 223,000 of the nearly 507,000 households seeking relief, according to a state dashboard.
The stopgap measure left many unsatisfied.
Some lawmakers and tenant advocates said the state should have extended the rent relief application deadline past Thursday, arguing that many needy Californians weren’t aware of the program or faced language barriers. Renters who didn’t apply by the Thursday deadline can face eviction proceedings starting Friday.
Other officials denounced a provision of the bill that blocks some cities from implementing local eviction protections until July 1. “It’s completely outrageous,” San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston told the Associated Press. “The state should be helping us here and not tying our hands.”
Meanwhile, some landlord groups said the bill wasn’t fair to them. “Landlords are dying under this financial pressure,” said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. “There have been no resources really provided to rental property owners throughout this process.”
Finally, Attorney General Rob Bonta put eviction lawyers on notice, saying his office had received reports that some landlords or their attorneys were seeking to push through evictions by “falsely declaring” tenants hadn’t notified them of pending rent relief applications.
Against this intense political backdrop, Kounalakis is set to continue serving as acting governor until April 12, when Newsom returns from vacation. It isn’t the first time she’s filled in for Newsom at a high-stakes moment: Last year, she represented California at the United Nations climate change conference in Scotland after Newsom abruptly canceled his trip there to spend Halloween with his family.
These high-profile experiences — plus her tweet — suggest that Kounalakis may be gearing up for a future gubernatorial run. And, if the certified list of June 7 primary candidates Secretary of State Shirley Weber released Thursday is anything to go by, Kounalakis looks to be headed for an easy reelection as lieutenant governor.