By Steven Tavares.
Just over 48 hours since failing to gain a majority vote in favor of prohibiting Alameda landlords from evicting tenants without cause, a consensus on the Alameda City Council formed Friday evening that directs city staff to form the framework of a plan to include “just cause” eviction protections in the city’s rent stabilization ordinance.
Friday’s hearing was a continuation of Tuesday’s scheduled council meeting that adjourned shortly before 1 a.m.
Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie, after showing resistance toward ‘just cause’ protections late Tuesday night due to the prominence of the issue and a reluctance to debate the issue in the early morning hours, acquiesced to the proposal backed by Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Malia Vella to amend the rent ordinance to include “just cause” protections. The group represents a majority of the five-person city council.
Twenty-four families have been evicted without cause in Alameda since last year, according to a staff report.“From the 40,000-foot level, you can say the rent control ordinance is working,” Oddie said of the rent stabilization ordinance the council approved in March 2016.
“For the 24 families maybe it’s not working for them,” he added. Oddie later asked city staff to further brief the council at a later date on the specifics behind the 24 “no cause” evictions.
Alameda’s elections last fall featured two competing rent measures. Landlords had bitterly fought against a renters-backed initiative that included rent control, but also for eliminating evictions without cause. Landlords argued “just cause” regulations will inhibit the ability of property owners to evict so-called “bad tenants.”
“If the 24 cases are nuisance [evictions], then the landlords made their point,” said Oddie. “If they don’t, then maybe their argument doesn’t hold water.”
One reason for cutting Tuesday’s meeting short was a brief outburst that followed Oddie’s attempt to read from dais an unfriendly email he had just received from a member of the Alameda Renters Coalition. Oddie said he was being “politically blackmailed” by the email that also threatened a loss of support from the tenants’ group after he failed to register the third vote Tuesday night in favor of ‘just cause’ regulations.
Oddie apologized Friday for his “over-emotion” and for potentially violating the city’s sunshine ordinance by communicating with a member of the public on a specific subject while it was being discussed during the council meeting.
Alameda Director of Community Development Debbie Potter said additional information on the circumstances behind the 24 ‘no cause’ evictions and a sketching of how ‘just cause’ could be applied on the island will come to the council by the May 16 meeting.
Friday’s reversal, though, did not suit landlords and property owner advocates well. When it appeared ‘just cause’ was back on the table, several silently raised signs inside council chambers that read “Keep No Cause!”
One landlord in the audience grumbled, “I guess elections don’t matter,” a reference to the majority of Alamedans who supported Measure L1 last November, the initiative that affirmed the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. At the same time, Measure M1, which advocated for strong rent control and ‘just cause’ protections, garnered just one-third of the vote.
Alameda Mayor Spencer agreed with the landlords’ critique. “I do believe this was already decided by the people,” she said. Spencer later suggested the council’s direction toward ‘just cause’ amounts to “invalidating the results of the election.” Ashcraft disagreed and said the ability of the council to later make amendments to the rent ordinance in order to confront new challenges for renters and landlords was one of its defining strengths.
Citing a lack of data on evictions, Councilmember Frank Matarrese said “the time is not now” for amending the rent stabilization ordinance to include ‘just cause’ protections.