City Council Hands Tenant-Protections a Major Setback

City Council handed residents who rent a major setback tonight when the Council majority appeared to second-guess its earlier commitment to create a rental unit registry. In semi-retreat our councilmembers signaled that Beverly Hills may not yet be ready, and that has significant implications for both tenants and landlords.

What was on the agenda tonight was a review of the scope, staffing and budget for the city’s rent stabilization program. City consultant Management Partners (above) presented an analysis of other cities’ programs. Using our new rent stabilization ordinance and policy objectives as a framework, Management Partners developed staffing and work plans necessary to ramp-up an independent, properly-resourced rent stabilization division.

Gwen Owens at City Council August 8, 2017
Gwen Owens, member of the tenants’ committee, speaks for rent stabilization program staffing at City Council.

Members of the tenants committee reviewed the report on Sunday and agreed on nearly every proposal. And all seven committee members showed to urge to Council stand up for an independent, self-sustaining rent stabilization program — complete with the housing inspectors we need to enforce a new (proposed) habitability standard. We were there until midnight.

But all was for naught: City Council never did engage with the substance of that proposal. Instead Council demurred on the cost: Why staff a division before our rent stabilization policy is ultimately decided? Two councilmembers seemed to question why the city needed a registry at all. One councilmember, John Mirisch, who is always concerned about city pension costs, asked, “Why not outsource it?”

The Management Partners report makes clear that an in-house, independent, well-resourced rent stabilization division is a model that works elsewhere and it should be put to work here too. They looked to similar programs in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Los Angeles (where certain aspects of our own program originate) and came up with a similar implementation plan for Beverly Hills.

Chuck Moffitt at City Council 2017-8-7
Chuck Moffitt speaks in favor of the rent stabilization ordinance and the staffing plan at City Council.

But tonight City Council balked, and voted to delay a critical component of the program: the registry. It will be delayed for 30 days to resolve questions about scope and purpose – and perhaps necessity – which will delay the program. It is even more surprising that Council punted because the process of collecting and verifying the rents is already underway.

Mayor Lili Bosse again emerged as our champion, though. To a question about the registry’s purpose, she said plainly, “The registry is for accountability.” Councilmember Robert Wunderlich reasonably interrogated the cost projections and attempted to disentangle its myriad, interlocking parts for analysis. And ultimately he conceded it was too complex to disentangle. Nevertheless he offered his support for the Management Partners plan too.

Robert Wunderlich at City Council August 8, 2017
Robert Wunderlich wonders about the staffing plan given that there is no final rent stabilization ordinance in place.

Vice Mayor Julian Gold and Councilmember Les Friedman (never taken-for-granted votes for the program) seemed to prefer a less-is-more approach when it comes to regulation.  Friedman was notably cold to the January urgency RSO ordinance when he was stumping for office. They didn’t surprise us with their hesitation to go forward.

But John Mirisch DID surprise, because in January, during discussion of the original urgency ordinance, he was a strong voice for residents who rent. “We all know Beverly Hills is not only swimming pools and movie stars,” he said then.

It is a city where we are connected with a sense of place and a sense of home. It’s not just an enclave of the super-rich. Renters are such an important part of our community and, in many ways, they were being pushed around… We want stability. We want people to make this their home. We want people to send kids to our schools…. (January 24, 2017)

That sentiment echoed his campaign themes. But we heard none of that from Councilmember Mirisch tonight. There was no rhetorical flourish about home and hearth. Instead he stayed quiet for most of the discussion and let Lili slug it out with the (literal) right wing on the dais, Gold and Friedman.

Whether you agree or not with his position on legacy employee costs (too high) or staffing numbers (too bloated), the reality is that his vote cost us crucial progress on the registry and the program. His was the third vote we needed and didn’t get it.

Click through to watch the video.