In a conference call late Friday afternoon, Alameda mayor Trish Spencer and interim city manager Liz Warmerdam told Action Alameda News that they had reached out to both landlords and representatives of the Alameda Renters Coalition in advance of the special meeting on rising rents.
Landlords, they said, agreed to a format that worked in early October for special meeting over another controversial topic that drew a large audience, consideration of a resolution affirming the zoning for the Harbor Bay Club on Bay Farm Island.
This was confirmed separately by landlord Doug Smith.
But Alameda Renters Coalition representatives weren’t interested and were offended at the prospect of being on equal footing with landlords.
After a scuffle broke out the doors to council chambers, “people were genuinely scared,” Spencer said. Two coalition members were arrested, and one city staffer was sent to hospital with a broken hip.
The Alameda Renters Coalition has said that its members were locked out of the meeting, and that landlords began dominating the public comment period. The trouble started roughly an hour into the meeting when they insisted on entry to an at-capacity council chambers.
A review of the video of that first hour indeed shows that most speakers were landlords, but two or three people did speak on behalf of tenants or in favor of the city taking action to create affordable housing.
Ahead of the meeting, the City of Alameda sent press releases advising of expected high attendance for the meeting, and announced that overflow space would be set up in the library, down the block.
In fact, Warmerdam told Action Alameda News, overflow areas with live video feeds were set up in the 360 meeting room next to council chambers, the lobby of city hall, and at the library down the block. Further, she said, a city staffer made rounds at each overflow room offering speaker slips to anyone that wanted to address city council.
Traditionally First-come, First-Served
Traditionally, meetings at Alameda City Hall operate on a first-come, first-served basis, with council chambers open to the public, and speakers slips available to the public, roughly one hour before the scheduled start time for a meeting.
At over-capacity meetings, the meeting chair will typically call three or four names in advance to get them to line up for the podium, and calls go out to the hallway outside of chamber doors, and to overflow rooms, for speakers whose names are called but aren’t in council chambers proper. Members of the public typically aid in tracking down speakers or advising that certain speakers have left, to help facilitate the meeting.
Spencer said that in accordance with normal protocol, she began asking speakers to the podium in the order they submitted their speaker slips. One apparently disabled man, speaking on behalf of tenants, Spencer said, turned down several offers from other speakers to move ahead to the podium, in order to be the final speaker.
(It’s not uncommon for practiced public speakers, familiar with the first-come, first-serve, model, a.k.a. last-submitted, last-word, model, to try to game the public speaker queue, by waiting until the very last minute to submit their speaker slip, thereby speaking last, and getting ‘the last word,’ sometimes even refuting comments made by previous speakers, who then have no opportunity for rebuttal.)
Earlier on Friday, Doyle Saylor of the Alameda Renters Coalition, told Action Alameda News that coalition members planned to arrive at 6 p.m. – the scheduled start time for the meeting – which would put them in the queue behind behind those who arrived before the meeting started.
Catherine Pauling of the renters coalition did not respond to a voice mail or Facebook messages requesting comment.
John Klein, one of the two tenant activists arrested at the meeting, told Action Alameda News through Facebook, “What the City was offering was a blatant violation of the Brown Act, which ARC couldn’t accept, of course.” Pressed for specifics, Klein cited California Government Code section 54954.*
Three tenant activists, including Klein, and Angela Hockabout, a one-time leader in the renters coalition, submitted written comments for the meeting, all of which were available on the City of Alameda website on the day of the meeting.
Hockabout, who said she couldn’t attend, submitted her comments a week in advance of the meeting.
After the melee Wednesday night, Spencer, as mayor, and chair of the meeting, faced calls from other council members, and Warmerdam, to adjourn the meeting.
“I have to think about my staff and keep them safe,” Warmerdam said.
Spencer refused. “If I adjourned the meeting, then we wouldn’t have been able to take any action to help tenants that night. I wanted council to be able to decide that night,” she said.
Instead, Spencer approached Pauling, seated within council chambers, to seek agreement on a 30 minute block of time for each side, landlords and tenants. Spencer then went to the hallway to seek agreement from activists there.
Later, after tenants had spoken, Spencer called a recess and personally ushered attendees out of council chambers to allow those that had been in overflow areas enter.
At least one person, Spencer said, didn’t like that either.
* A California Attorney General guide to the Brown Act notes, “The Act specifically authorizes the legislative body to adopt regulations to assist in processing comments from the public. The body may establish procedures for public comment as well as specifying reasonable time limitations on particular topics or individual speakers. So long as the body acts fairly with respect to the interest of the public and competing factions, it has great discretion in regulating the time and manner, as distinguished from the content, of testimony by interested members of the public. (§ 54954.3(b).)”
Addendum – John Klein’s statements for this article were taken from a public discussion on the Action Alameda News page on Facebook, after we had privately messaged him requesting comment for this story, and, separately, expressly asked him to comment “on the record” on the topic in the same public forum. After this story was published, Klein wrote on the Action Alameda News page, “I believe journalistic ethics requires one to ask for permission before quoting a source. You in no way indicated that you were working on a large story. I consider that to be completely unethical and unprofessionwl. You did not say you would quote me in a story along with the mayor on this issue.”