The issue of the City’s Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance again consumed the Richmond City Council Tuesday night.
The divisive ordinance was supposed to be voted into law during the meeting, but disagreements over particulars of the affordable housing initiatives pushed the Council to their 11:30 pm deadline. Even though a motion was on the table, the vote to extend the meeting past the deadline failed to muster the required supermajority of 5 votes and the motion to extend failed 4-3.
Instead, the Council adjourned for their August recess without moving on rent control or a number of other pressing financial items.
A number of technical, typographical, and legal amendments were proposed to the city’s Just Cause and Rent Control ordinance before the second reading of the item Tuesday night, and revelations of legal issues and unforeseen expenses emerged throughout the conversation.
Because of the extensive amendments to the first reading of the ordinance at their July 21 meeting, what was proposed at this meeting was actually a new first reading with a second reading coming as early as the following Monday at a special called meeting of the Council.
During a presentation by City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller, the issue the enforceability of decisions by the Rent Control Board and Just Cause Eviction Board were cited as pressing legal concerns.
“Our suggestion is that the Rent Board not be able to go to court,” Goodmiller started. “First of all, it can’t. It would be like saying the Commission on Aging could go to court and start suing people.”
As the ordinance is currently written, the Rent Control Board and Just Cause Eviction Board, which are to consist of elected members of the public, can dole out legally-enforceable punishments. In the ordinance’s language, a six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine is the mandatory punishment for landlords found in violation of the new regulations.
The conversation evolved to the issue of the elections for these boards. A change to the City’s charter is required to hold these elections since currently the only designated elected positions are for the City Council.
Councilmember Vinay Pimpléinquired about the costs of these new elections, to which City Manager Bill Lindsay explained that each would cost somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000, for a total of $100,000 to $150,000 for both elections. The costs for these elections would come from the city’s general fund.
The legal tweaks to the ordinance suggested by the City Attorney would create two new elected bodies in the city that are unable to make legally-enforceable decisions.
“You never did an economic analysis on this?” asked Mayor Tom Butt rhetorically.
“What I would say is that the data sample was not very extensive,” replied the City Manager.
The evening’s decorum began to unravel at this revelation.
Councilmember Nat Bates appeared incredulous. “You are building a bureaucracy that will bankrupt this city down the road,” Bates said. “This could [have] some serious consequences.”
There were no moves during the meeting from the Council to ratify any of the City Attorney’s suggested changes, but Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin did suggest an amendment to one section of the ordinance.
“Nearly 51 percent of our city are renters, and housing is a human right, and our renters deserve protection,” Councilmember McLaughlin started. “That’s just the social justice issue of the matter.”
Councilmember McLaughlin’s amendment suggested deleting the sentence that stated the ordinance would be effective December 1, 2015, so as to make it effective after 30 days, per the period of time in which City ordinances typically become law.
The Councilmember’s motion also called for a special meeting on Monday, August 3, for another second reading of the ordinance, in addition to establishing a contract with the City Manager’s Office to implement the ordinance.
The call for a meeting on August 3, which would occur during the Council’s month-long recess, was cause for concern from Mayor Butt.
“Have you made any effort to figure out who is going to be here?” asked Mayor Butt.
“I do understand that four members of the council will be available for that meeting,” McLaughlin responded.
The clock was pushing 11:30 pm at this time. Before Councilmember McLaughlin’s motion could be called for a vote, the Mayor called for the required vote to extend the meeting past the established deadline.
The City Manager chimed in at this time to remind the Council that “time critical items that could bring dire financial repercussions to the city”remained on the agenda. Councilmember Pimplémade a subsequent motion to finish these time-sensitive items only, but the motion failed.
The subsequent vote to continue the meeting until the vote on Rent Control and Just Cause Ordinance was complete also failed, and the meeting was immediately adjourned upon the 11:30 pm deadline.
The next regular meeting of the Richmond City Council is scheduled for September 15, once the Council returns from recess, but a special meeting may still be called for Monday, August 3. In the meantime the City’s Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance, which was the first such measure to be presented before a California municipality in 30 years, lies in limbo.