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Local Landlords Open Procedural Front Against Rent Control Ordinance

A renter holds a sign at the January 5th Alameda city council meeting. (Action Alameda News)

A renter holds a sign at the January 5th Alameda city council meeting. (Action Alameda News)

An Alameda resident and attorney who is one of twelve signators to a letter expressing opposition to rent control called into question last night the procedures followed by the City of Alameda with regards to the introduction of rent control and just cause eviction ordinances.

In a letter to city council in advance of last night’s marathon meeting, which stretched into the wee hours over consideration of three alternative rent control ordinances, Barbara Thomas and eleven other property owners wrote that they “believe that any cap on annual rent increases as well as any restriction of no-cause eviction as permitted by California law will have a severe economic impact on our ability to restore, preserve, maintain and manage our historical properties and will lead to the deterioration of our historical neighborhoods.”

Addressing city council at the podium last night, Thomas asserted that the consideration of rent control ordinances is an action that requires review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQ) and review by the city’s historical advisory board.

The letter lists 18 Alameda properties that “were built before 1942, some of which are included in the City’s Historical Building Study List and/or in George Gunn’s two books listing historical properties from 1854 to 1904 and 1905 to 1909.”

Owners of these properties are concerned that rent control will limit their ability to service and repair their historical buildings, which are more costly to repair.

Thomas hinted that legal action, such as a court injunction, might stall the process of implementing rent control in Alameda.

Further, Thomas asserted that city council members who rent or let their properties have a conflict of interest when considering rent control and just cause eviction ordinances and should recuse themselves from voting; Mayor Trish Spencer and Councilmember Jim Oddie are renters.

After the meeting, Thomas told Action Alameda News by e-mail, “in response to my presentation that any councilmember renters or owners of qualifying rental property had a conflict of interesting on voting on rent control, the City Attorney belatedly said there was an exception to the conflict of interest rules for the two council members who are renters and voting on rent control. I asked for the code section and was told I was out of order by the Mayor.

“The Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) opinions and decisions have steadfastly held that when the interest of the official is different than that of the general public, they have a conflict of interest and cannot participate. And in order to invoke and benefit from an exception, the court held in Kunec v. Brea Redevelopment Agency, (1997) 55 Cal. App. 4th 511

“The council totally ignored Government Code Section 1090 which has been liberally construed by the Courts. I believe that voting on an ordinance which affects a contract that an official is already a party to, is sufficient to trigger its application.

“As an attorney, I would want to advise my client BEFORE THEY PARTICIPATED in the discussion or voting, that obtaining an advisory opinion from the FPPC is free and will provide needed advice and or protection.

“The City Attorney failed to comply with the regulations, therefore no exception could legally apply under California Government Code section 87100.”

Thomas provided no indication of what steps, if any, her group may take next.

Regarding a rent control ordinance, City council heard testimony from both landlord and tenant groups, and individual speakers.

Greg McConnell, speaking on behalf of Alamedans for Fair Rents, a landlord group, expressed a preference for the first of three alternative ordinances presented; that alternative was the least restrictive on landlords and emphasis use of the existing Rent Review Advisory Committee.

Duane Moles, speaking for the Alameda Renters Coalition, expressed disappointment with all three alternatives, a key sticking point, even for the most restrictive alternative, being an annual cap on rent increases of 8 percent, which his group says is too high.

City council gave direction to staff to bring back a revised ordinance for the second council meeting in February, at which time staff should also have guidelines for Capital Improvement Plans that landlords would have to develop if they wish to vacate buildings for the purpose of substantial rehabilitation.

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