The Mountain View City Council's preferred plan to ameliorate the city's rental crisis was delivered a setback after failing to secure enough votes in a second reading of a tentatively approved ordinance last month. While delayed for nearly a month, the rental ordinance is expected to pass with a majority when it is reviewed again at the end of April.
The proposed ordinance, dubbed the Rental-Housing Dispute Resolution Program, creates a mandatory mediation process, if requested, for renters and landlords for any rent increases beyond a certain threshold.
City staff's original proposal called for disputes that couldn't be settled through mediation to go into binding arbitration, which would empower independent officials to nullify rent increases deemed too high. But that proposal was rejected by the council majority, who said it would essentially be the same as rent control. The council majority had earlier indicated support for binding arbitration as a last measure.
At the council's March 13 meeting, the non-binding mediation program passed by a 4-3 vote despite losing support on both sides of the spectrum. Councilman Lenny Siegel, a rent-control advocate, criticized the plan for being toothless and incapable of providing much relief. He was joined in voting against the plan by councilmen John Inks and Ken Rosenberg, who both oppose rent-control policies yet also disliked the details of the council's plan.
Rosenberg, who described himself as "51-49 percent" opposed, explained he lost confidence in the proposal as the council deliberated over setting a rent-increase threshold for mandatory mediation. After seven votes, the council agreed to go with Rosenberg's original threshold proposal -- a 7.2 percent rent increase -- but he said his mind was made up to oppose the plan.
"I was moaning internally, thinking this is a ridiculous process," Rosenberg told the Voice in an interview following the vote. "There was no number I could come up with that made any sort of sense and was defensible."
That opposition stayed intact at the council's March 22 meeting, when the rental ordinance was scheduled for a second reading. The item was originally on the consent agenda, but Siegel pulled it for a full discussion.
Councilman Mike Kasperzak was away on a trip to Washington, D.C., and absent for the second vote, ensuring an impasse with a 3-3 split. City staff explained that a split vote meant the ordinance would not be adopted, but it could be considered again.
The council agreed to continue the discussion to the April 26 meeting, when all seven council members are expected to be there.
In an interview this week, Kasperzak said he fully intends to vote for the ordinance, meaning it is likely to receive final approval.
Speaking as a member of the public, local attorney Gary Wesley warned the council that the language in the ordinance could spur evictions. Landlords could evict current residents and charge new tenants far higher rents rather than deal with mediation hearings, he said.
"The only way that a landlord would get in trouble is if he demands a higher rent and then moves to evict," Wesley said. "Any tenant could be evicted now in anticipation of this ordinance."
City Attorney Jannie Quinn later reportedly told council members she thought the policy was broad enough to cover these types of cases.
As the council stalls on action on the rental crisis, more ideas for tackling the problem are emerging. Tenant advocates last week announced they are putting a measure before local voters containing much of what city leaders refused to consider, including caps on rent increases and just-cause eviction protection.
Rosenberg said he intends to investigate an alternative plan to strengthen the city's tenant relocation program. That system forces property owners looking to redevelop to pay tenants a sum to move elsewhere, and Rosenberg said it could be used to impose a fee on landlords who are essentially pricing their tenants out of the market.
"I want the landlords to say, 'This is going to cost me to get them out,'" he said. "In this case, the tenant would have a bargaining position they didn't have before."