Dialogue #1 in this second round kicked off with a series of four issue presentations from city consultant, HR&A Advisors. Each was followed by followed by an open mic for public comments. Unlike last summer’s roundtable discussions, this series of dialogues is highly structured: an issue walk-through and then policy options to which the public is invited to respond. Not much of a dialogue!
About 45 stakeholders attended the first of the round 2 facilitated dialogues and seemed evenly split between tenants and landlords. Also attending were three councilmembers: Lili Bosse, Bob Wunderlich and Lester Friedman — each a regular attendee at last year’s dialogues.
Councilmember Bosse has been a stalwart and here she was seated in the front row, the diligent pupil! Councilmember Wunderlich took a cheap seat in the back row and Lester Friedman floated. Again there was no sign of Mayor Gold (who is in a hurry to wrap up the RSO) or Councilmember John Mirisch who actually suggested the dialogues (he hasn’t attended any).
Renters Alliance members Mark Elliot and Chuck Moffitt communicated the preliminary positions that tenants’ agreed last summer. Visit the positions webpage where we have organized the issues according to dialogue #1 issues and dialogue #2 issues. Contact Renters Alliance with your views! Or visit our HR&A materials webpage. The deadline for comments to the city is September 16th.
If you could not join us, check out the video — 3.5 hours of policy talk. Grab a giant popcorn and a big drink and enjoy it comfortably from your sofa.
Renters Alliance Take on Dialogue #1
We couldn’t help but feel we’ve seen this movie before. We watched Community Development Department Director Susan Healy Keene provide an overview of the rent stabilization policy program and re-introduce facilitator Sukhsimranjit Singh from Pepperdine. He moderated last summer’s dialogues.
What distinguished this second round of dialogues was the introduction of city consultant HR&A Advisors and the issue memos that now structure the policy process. Last summer the dialogues drew extensively on anecdotes from both sides of the aisle but it was a productive discussion. Now we have at least some context for relevant issues. We also have policy options to which we’re asked to react.
Also, this dialogue #1 introduced Helen Morales, our new director of the Rent Stabilization Program. She presented the habitability issue. Helen is the face of the program now. In other respects, though, this first dialogue in the second round was a disappointment. Some thoughts.
This dialogue in general was simply not as productive as we would have liked. Gone is the ‘roundtable’ around which representatives from tenants and landlords had identified key issues and staked out our respective positions. Back then we found some areas of agreement (many needed more work) and talking itself was progress. At dialogue *1 tenants and landlords tended to talk past each other with anecdotes (a replay of so many Council and commission meetings).
Contrary to the billing there was little actual dialogue. The communication was largely uni-directional. HR&A presented the issues. Later the public had an opportunity to speak up. There was no meaningful exchange. (Maybe that’s just as well: it’s City Council’s dialogue that counts anyway.)
It felt a bit like ‘public participation theater.’ Not to be uncharitable here — the city is devoting considerable resources to the process — but the rigid dialogue format felt overly-structured. And it’s not clear how our verbal comments make it into the record for Council review if forms are provided for that purpose. So it’s more like a Q&A. Finally, then there’s some sense of deja vu as we have already sat through a similar exercise exactly a year ago.
The role of the facilitator seems misplaced. We love Dr. Singh and he did perform an important ‘traffic cop’ role when we used a roundtable format. But in this far more structured presentation-and-response format, it is not yet clear what his role would be… except to caution civility must prevail (and it always does).
We still don’t have the data that we need for a productive discussion about the key issues. This is the most important takeaway! The help from HR&A has more clearly defined each issue and identified policy options, but what if we would drill down on these issues? There simply is no local data available to inform the discussion of no-just-cause termination, relocation fees, Ellis Act, or habitability standards.
In conclusion, some of us were skeptical about the reprise of the dialogues yet we could not not participate. We are in a box. As one attendee said, “I’m hoping we we don’t have these meeting over and over again, and hear the same problems….” We agree!
Last year we suggested to the city a ‘collaborative democracy’ format that would have alternated between issue education and hands-on facilitation. It is a back-and forth iterative process practiced by the National Institute for Civil Discourse that has worked in other localities for thorny issues. Beverly Hills has chosen to roll our own process instead.