You Turned Out on Tuesday. What Did Council Do?

I want to thank everyone who responded to my Renters Alliance invitation and attended the City Council meeting this past Tuesday. Some were reluctant to speak up, but many of you offered heartfelt comments and observations. But our recommendations on the proposed ordinance — released Friday night on a holiday weekend — were lost in our allotted one-and-a-half minutes at the microphone. So much for democracy!

Here are my preliminary observations from the meeting. Watch the 5-hour video (below) for more details. (Council comments start at 3h:41m.) In brief, Tuesday’s meeting included:

  • The good: We still have a 3% cap and relocation fees (to discourage no-just-cause evictions) as well as a rental registry in the works.
  • The bad: A rent cap is not a cap when it can be busted at the request of the landlord; and smaller relocation fees mean diminished protection from eviction for residents.
  • The ugly: This well-wrought set of policies was dumped at the equivalent of midnight before a meeting which left tenants and tenants’ advocates unprepared. But landlords were sated after feasting on the half-a-loaf they grabbed off our plate.

Meeting Highlights

Again Lili Bosse was our most forceful advocate. She’s for the 3% cap; she questioned why the relocation fees were diminished by one-third; and she even questioned the need for a rent adjustment process at all. (It is “constitutionally-mandated,” said the City Attorney.) Bosse also noted that the draft ordinance would have resident tenants automatically shoulder the entire seismic retrofit cost (sneaky!) but she succeeded in having that cost be considered under the rent adjustment process. Only Lili Bosse was able to modify any aspect of the ordinance; it otherwise passed as presented after a muddled and distracted debate.

Councilmember Reims was also a strong defender of renters. She questioned the no-just-cause policy. “Landlords say they use it for a purpose for which it is not intended,” she said, referring to no-just-cause as a convenient alternative to the expense of for-cause evictions. Reims also questioned why short-tenure tenants (who are resident for a year, say) should not benefit from the entire relocation fee. The policy accords a half-fee if you’re in the apartment for up to 2.5 years. She said that such tenants incur the same relocation costs as would any tenant. (Thank you!)

Mayor Mirisch is looking for a consensus solution. He wants both tenants and landlords to come to a roundtable because (to his credit) he believes that renter representatives should be involved in a processes like rent adjustments. Indeed he is open to a rent board of some kind (like other cities use). Notably Mirisch also looks more broadly at housing policy and, for example, wants the city to mandate relocation fees for all tenants who are displaced by condominium conversions. When he last raised the issue in 2012, Council didn’t bite.

Vice-Mayor Nancy Krasne was not ready to support the registry and her vision for rent stabilization is unclear. She talks frequently of having helped senior renters who were facing eviction. She also “take names” of problem landlords. But a councilmember can’t persecute (or prosecute) them, and calling them out from the dais is problematic anyway. That’s why we need rental registry to hold landlords accountable. Yet Krasne was not ready to support it. (Like Dr. Gold she questioned its effectiveness and cost.)

Councilmember Julian Gold is clearly no fan of rent stabilization. Can he be counted on to protect our interests? At the meeting he circulated two popular-interest articles on the harms of rent control. With ample academic studies on the issue, why point to junk journalism (like this gem)? That has no place in a policy discussion. Yet there it was included as an attachment in the staff report.

Watch the video.

What’s Next?

The next step for City Council will come this summer when it will formalize some process (perhaps including roundtable discussions as advocated by Mayor Mirisch) to decide on a final rent stabilization policy.

The next step for residents comes March 7th: this is the single most important election in many years (at least in my decade as a Beverly Hills resident). We must choose wisely. If Nancy Krasne wins re-election on March 7th she will then rotate into the Mayor’s chair. If Krasne is NOT elected, then renter-champion Lili Bosse gets the Mayor’s chair.

Our next City Council will finalize rent stabilization policies in the months ahead. Good to know! Until any further changes are made, the policies in the ordinance and summarized here will remain in effect.

Landlords, already having gobbled half of our loaf-of-protections baked in January, are still hungry for more. Under the direction of their industry group, Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, the landlords last week called an all-hands-on-deck meeting to gin up support for candidates who are opposed to better rent stabilization policies.

AAGLA red alertMy source says that AAGLA would endorse Les Friedman (Councilmember Gold’s man), Vera Markowitz (prominent in the pro-Measure HH campaign), and Elliot Finkel. None of them have explicitly or implicitly endorsed new protections for renters. Also good to know!