Friday, November 6, 2015

Despite rent moratorium in Alameda, it's all leading to ballot fight over rent control

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | ANALYSIS | It may have taken more than three hours to pin down the details, but Alameda’s immediate 65-day moratorium on rent increases and evictions will keep renters in their places through the holiday season. What comes next for alleviating growing fears across the island of brutal rent hikes and 60-day notices, is unclear, especially since the stopgap measure unanimously passed early Thursday morning by the Alameda City Council came after more than a year of inaction.

Meanwhile, city staff is now tasked with bringing back addition options for the council to consider, likely in the new year. They include a just cause ordinance and new rules for the Rent Review Advisory Committee (RRAC). But, neither is likely to appease renter’s groups, nor give solace to Alameda renters at-large. Catherine Pauling, a leader for the Alameda Renters Coalition, quickly criticized portions of the council's new directions to staff just minutes after the seven and a half hour meeting. A possible ordinance specifically outlining the justifications for a landlord to evict a renter was met more positively by the Alameda Renters Coalition Thursday morning. While a just cause ordinance appears to generally have support on the council, proposed enhancements may have difficulty gaining inclusion.

The insertion of language by Councilmember Tony Daysog to look at requiring landlords to pay relocation fees to renters upon eviction was met with major doubts from Councilmember Jim Oddie. A proposal by Daysog last month for a 45-day moratorium included similar relocation fee language. At Wednesday night’s special meeting on rising rents, Daysog often used a $3,500 fee as an example for reimbursing renters evicted from their places. Oddie countered the fee could be used as a pretext for evicting renters and replacing them with higher rent-paying tenants, similar to the Ellis Act. Other councilmembers also voiced some skepticism. “I have a visceral reaction to that,” said Oddie. “It’s social cleansing. Here take some money and get out of here.” Daysog disagreed and, instead, said the relocation fee will make landlords think twice before evicting their tenants.

A bit more complicated is direction from the council to further revamp the RRAC. Less than two months ago, the council decided to require landlords to attend hearings brought forth by their tenants or forfeit the ability to raise rents for a year. But, quickly some councilmembers said the ordinance had no teeth. Later, the renters coalition argued the existing RRAC is landlord-friendly and too often approves 10 percent rent hikes as compromises, which the group believes is already too high.

Under a proposed amendment led by Oddie, the RRAC may be allowed to limit increases to 8 percent. Whereas, the current setup is driven by renters who want to protest rent increases of any amount, the potential new rules would put the onus of landlords to seek approval from the RRAC for any rent hikes over 8 percent during a given year. In addition, city staff was also directed to provide a secondary proposal that would allow mediation in cases over the 8 percent threshold and then binding arbitration if there is no agreement. Such a proposal would not be rent control, said the city attorney’s office, since no specific ceiling for landlords to raise rents would be included, such as a limit on rent increases tied annually to the Consumer Price Index.

The question of rent control may ultimately be the endgame for Alameda’s growing housing crisis. A sense of class warfare is quickly becoming more evident as the City Council makes incremental moves on rent and the violent episode involving a police officer and a 68-year-old renter Wednesday night who was throw to the ground at City Hall and bloodied become symbols for the divide on the island. And landowners may still give renters ammunition for their cause going forward.

Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft last month referenced the notion growing in Alameda of a community at war with itself. On Wednesday, she added, “I don’t want to toss landlords and tenants against each other.” But when landlords filled the City Council Chambers Wednesday evening its set a tone and later some were rudely snickered under the breathe as renters offered stories of sky-high rent hikes. The atmosphere was significantly different after dozens of members of the Alameda Renters Coalition threatened to storm the council chambers for an opportunity to speak. A noticeable unease was then evident among the remaining landlords who stuck around for the council’s comments. Ultimately blood was spilled at City Hall by an overzealous police officer who may have also risked numerous injuries to others in that hallway, including a number of elderly women who were pushed over by the takedown of renter Bob Davis. Notably, there was no mention of the violent act by the City Council, but sympathy offered for the hip injury sustained to Public Works Director Bob Haun, who, according to one video, appeared to have triggered the entire incident by pushing renter Bob Davis to the ground.

With an increasingly effective grassroots organization like the Alameda Renters Coalition which also carries a revolutionary bent, the meme of law enforcement protecting wealthy landowner’s interest is powerful. A strong whiff of populism is already evident among all Alameda renters. Furthermore, many are fueled by high anxiety over their ability to keep living in Alameda. Worse for the status quo, the Alameda Renters Coalition is making significant noise, but most of these renters are clearly political outsiders. In addition, keep in mind a majority of Alamedans are renters. Politically, government inaction coupled with public anxiety multiplied by an upset populace equals a chain reaction leading to major change, like a ballot measure next year calling for rent control. It’s the nuclear option some have warned landlords to avoid. It may become unavoidable.

There is word the Alameda Renters Coalition is working toward that option. Getting such a measure on the ballot would be no problem. Getting it approved by voters would require hard work. And its success would hand Alameda an interesting historical footnote. The populist upheaval that led to the passage of Measure A in 1972 to limit construction of multi-family housing, one of the factors that has led the city to its current housing crunch, could be negated by a similar grassroots effort. This time to pass rent control.


The chief of police in Alameda, along with almost the entire police force, do not live in Alameda. The police chief lives in the wealthy enclave of Danville. The Alameda police force more closely resembles the population of Danville than Alameda. Using City to Staff, including the public works director, Bob Haun, to stand in the doorway to the council chambers and push back renters trying to enter the meeting, harkens back to George Wallace standing in the school house door to keep black children out. The landlords took over the meeting, kept renters out, and when renters demanded access, city staff blocked their way and the police were called in to rough up renters whose only demand was exercise their right to attend a council meeting and be heard. Can you imagine the Alameda Council and Police doing the same to landlords?

Nonsense. City staff were handing out speaker slips in all the overflow areas. Anyone could have submitted a slip and gone to the podium to speak.

By their own admission, renters arrived at 6pm, the start time of the meeting. There is no reserved seating at city hall.

ARC leaders refused to work with the city in advance on speaking arrangements, instead preferring a violent confrontation they started by rushing and disturbing an in-progress meeting.

To a landlord, forcing tenants into an "overflow" area makes perfect sense. It is a public meeting and all of the public has the right to be there. Just as landlords believe that they are entitled to gouge tenants, they also believe they are entitled to grab up all of the seats at a public meeting. Keeping people out of a public meeting violates basic democratic principles. Having city employees then block access to the public meeting, makes makes them culpable in that violation. It is no better than if city staff forcefully removed the landlords from the meeting and threw them out the door. People have the right to resist when their basic freedoms are violated. Let's hope that city officials don't repeat this in the future.

Except they *weren't* kept out of a public meeting - there were 3 overflow areas set up - two in city hall, one in the library.

And city staff went to each area offering speaker slips so anybody that wanted to address council could do so.

This is precisely how it has worked at city hall for many high-attendance meetings in the past, except this one had violence. And this one had support from Occupy Oakland and SF-based Tenants Together.

If tenants wanted a seat in council chambers, they should have got their early, not at the 6pm planned start time of the meeting, according to their own leadership.

The Alameda Journal/Contra Costa Times reported that city officials tried working both landlord groups for equal speaking time, in advance of the meeting. Guess who refused? The tenant coalition.

They tenants coalition has only itself to blame.

They were late to the meeting and probably late with the rent too.

Renters have jobs. Many are just getting home from work by 6:00. Did anyone consider this? It is not easy for many people to forego family obligations to attend a 6:00 p.m. meeting. People can't just leave work early to get to a meeting an hour early to get a seat and then wait for a meeting to start. Did anyone on the council or city administration anticipate a possible problem or see one developing? How can we trust these people to run a city? Not a shining moment for Alameda. Plenty of blame to go around.

>>Did anyone on the council or city administration anticipate a possible problem or see one developing?

yes - city officials did anticipate something, and asked landlords and tenants to agree to a 30-minute block of time each, where representatives from each side could speak on behalf of the groups.

Landlords agreed. Tenants refused.

Peter Hagerty wrote for the local paper, ""Days before the meeting, city officials suggested landlords and renters each select representatives to make their case on the moratorium, Ashcraft said. Landlords agreed, but renters declined."

So, tenants could have agreed to have representatives speak on behalf of the coalition during the 30-minute block. They refused.

There were, in fact, a couple prominent members of the renters coalition who were in the audience in the first hour, before hell broke loose - they apparently were able to get their on time. They could have spoken on behalf of tenants.

Landlords packing the council chambers early didn't work? Did it? It only reinforced the image of the greedy landlord taking as much as he possibly can. Maybe it felt good to "outsmart" the stupid, lazy, late-paying, shiftless tenants. Marginalizing tenants to remote locations only intensified the feelings that renters already have about their status. The more that landlords act like landlords -- even if it is a seat in the council chambers -- the more the public sympathizes with renters.

The tenants earned themselves a black eye with their violence - rushing council chambers, disrupting the proceedings, a felony arrest, serious injury to a city staffer.

The tenants coalition could have agreed to an arrangement that avoided all of that, but they refused.

It was clearly deliberate so as to create a disturbance and garner media attention. The tenants group just didn't anticipate the arrests.

If you substitute the word "negro" for "renter," these landlord comments could have been made in Mississippi circa 1963.

These are typical representations of the lower classes in a society with increasing polarization between the rich and poor. The wealthy need to dehumanize the poor in order to justify a situation that is unjust and oppressive. Even taking up all the seats at a public hearing can be justified if you characterize the "other" as unworthy, violent, dishonest, lazy and irresponsible.

If landlord representatives do not realize just how counter-productive their actions were on Wednesday -- great! The simple act of offering seats to renters would have bought significant goodwill - a value that seems to escape many of our "housing providers."

Let's see how this one plays out. I'm betting my money on the renters as the landlords seem tone deaf and clueless.

Nobody is buying the narrative your peddling...

See how 8:19 puts words in my mouth.

It's a statement of fact, not a judgement, that tenants refused to a pre-meeting agreement about speaking time.

8:19 tries to put judgement words like "uncooperative" - words I never used - in my mouth.

There's no disputing there was violence at the meeting - ask Bob Haun. Most accounts attribute this to tenants - needlessly - rushing council chambers.

And the other judgement words - lazy, irresponsible - are words used only by the tenant activist him or her self..

The tenants group has been to council meetings in large numbers before.

It's pretty clear that this time, they decided to artificially make an issue of being "locked out" of council chambers to further thier cause and gain media attention.

The only people gaming seating at the council meeting were the tenants group themselves.

They don't understand, apparently, that it only serves to alienate city officials who they need for support.

There are many eye-witnesses who support the renters' side of this tale. Haun made the first move as far as pushing and shoving. A woman admitted that she had been paid by a landlord to sit in her chair in the chambers. The mayor needlessly harassed tenants by "cross examining" them, a clear sign of bias and un-equal treatment.

The latest strident squawking by the little clique of landlords who seem to think they run The Island only serves to show how unreasonable and uncooperative THEY are.

Alameda Peeps repeatedly posted that the meeting started at FIVE. There are many eye witnesses who will be willing to testify to the REAL facts.

You cannot continue to "economically purge" The Island of all working-class people, which seems to be your aim.

When there is nobody left on The Island to do your "work" for you, what will you do? That rich techie you rented to after you kicked the schoolteacher out isn't going to give a damn about you.

I don't get it. If it was repeatedly posted on facebook that the meeting started at 5pm - which is wrong, it started at 6pm - then why didn't more tenants arrive earlier?

There was also a rumor circulating that tenants planned to arrive earlier and occupy all the seats so landlords couldn't get a seat - maybe that was the purpose of the Peeps posting with the incorrect start time?

And why would "rich techies" rent instead of buying a home?

Renters cannot take off work early to go to a 6:00 p.m. meeting. They can't get there hours ahead of time to claim a seat. They have bills to pay and families. Obviously, some landlords simply do not get that. In any case, the City Council blew this one badly. What did they think was going to happen when they allowed landlords to take all the seats and then block the doors to keep renters from getting into the council room? Top management in Alameda get over $250,000 a year in salary and benefits. Why couldn't they figure it out? Instead, they had the head of public works try and block the door. I blame the council more than the landlords for the fiasco. If this matter goes to trial, my guess is that a lot of these public officials are going to face some hard questioning on the witness stand.

As for techies, they may not have the money for a down payment or may not plan to stay in the area for long. $100,000 a year job doesn't pay for much nowadays. They are young and single and don't need or want a house on Bay Farm.

Wow. So much vitriol and acrimony. Name calling does no good and pisses people off and mad people are less likely to work anything out.

Renters were not "marginalized to remote locations" - everyone who arrived after all seats in the Council Chambers were occupied had the option to watch and listen at another location. These other locations were mixtures of housing providers and tenants. I know because I was there.

Maybe it is worth pointing out that resisting arrest is not a constitutional right like free speech. If the arrest is unwarranted you will have to follow the legal procedures after your arrest. Even if you think it is unfair, don't fight with the police because you are not going to win that one and may end up injured.

This was a public hearing. Everyone was provided equal access. The police have no stake in this game and were doing their job, to limit additional people in the chamber according to the fire code. Ms. Davis had already been afforded an opportunity to speak and charged Mr. Haun, breaking his hip and putting him in the hospital. She was rightfully arrested and should take responsibility for her shameful actions.

Rent control is a misguided policy that has failed time and time again. One need look no farther than Oakland, Berkeley, and SF to see the disastrous consequences. Think rents in Alameda are rising fast? Guess which three cities led the Bay Area in rent increases. You guess it: Oakland, Berkeley, and SF.

Rent control is simply a lottery system that rewards a select few who are lucky enough to be in a rent controlled apartment already at the great disadvantage of everyone else. Owners have their property rights expropriated by the government and face an implicit tax on their income, new entrants to the area who often make less than current residents pay higher rents due to limited supply, and anyone who has to move from their current place to a new one will pay far more than under a free market outcome. You also limit the financial incentive to rent new units or build, reducing supply. In short, it's a gift to a few select people while screwing everyone else. Contrary to the term "rent control", you are forcing rents higher.

No one likes to see their rent go up, but it's similarly unjust to foist the costs on someone else. Rent control is also blind to income so you end up with situations with wealthy people benefiting. Would it be "just" for a person making $350,000/year to have a rent controlled apartment under a landlord making $50,000/year?

Don't be fooled. Rent control is a terrible idea and has disastrous implications. There is not a single moral, ethical, or economic justification to pass such a law if you consider the well-being of EVERYONE in the community, not just the few people who are upset about their rent going up.

One good approach for mom and pop renters to deal with a problem landlord is to pay your rent as a group. Each renter writes his or her own check as regular, but all of the checks are delivered together in a single envelope.

Pity the Downtrodden Landlord!

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