By Steven Taveres.
Alameda’s new progressive city council majority fell a vote short early Wednesday morning of banning evictions without cause, an issue hotly-debated by island voters during last fall’s election.
Tuesday night’s agenda featured the first annual review of Alameda’s rent stabilization ordinance passed by the city council in March 2016. After a long discussion and subsequent direction by the council to city staff to make tweaks to the ordinance, including adding regulations for fixed-rate leases, it was a late mention by Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft in support of just cause evictions that set off emotions.
“I’m not persuaded by the argument that it’s too difficult to take these cases to court when there’s a bad apple tenant,” said Ashcraft. “My personal feeling is that the benefits of no cause evictions are outweighed by the harms.” It’s an injustice for renters to continually worry about whether they may be evicted without cause, said Ashcraft.
Councilmember Malia Vella appeared willing to support Ashcraft’s proposal, calling the existence of no cause evictions, “the biggest loophole in this ordinance.” She reiterated Ashcraft’s comments about rental uncertainty, saying, “The tenant’s fear speaks for itself.”
Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer strongly opposed any regulations for owners to evict tenants without cause. Voters overwhelmingly rejected rent restrictions last fall, she said, citing no cause as a prominent issue. “Any vote of this magnitude, I think I would continue this cautious approach,” she said. The no cause question should instead be placed before voters, said Spencer.
Meanwhile, Councilmember Frank Matarrese took no stance, choosing to remain focused on supporting the staff recommendations previously discussed. But it was Councilmember Jim Oddie, the third member of the council’s progressive caucus, that resisted following Ashcraft and Vella’s lead, at least, early Wednesday morning.
“A lot of Alamedans think it was decided,” Oddie said of the pair of rent-related ballot measures last November. Alameda voters backed reaffirmation of the council’s rent stabilization ordinance while easily defeating a more restrictive rent control measure that also included rules for evicting renters only with cause. “It’s the biggest fault line between tenants and landlords in Alameda,” said Oddie.
Without additional public notice the electorate believes the issue has been decided, he added. “Alamedans went to bed not expecting to wake up with just cause in the morning.” However, Oddie also said he would not make a decision, regardless of his stance, in the middle of the night. Oddie’s reluctance to prohibit no cause evictions appeared to hit a raw nerve, not only for his council colleagues, but for a member of the Alameda Renters Coalition’s leadership team.
Vella said the last election was about rent control and not just cause regulations. “I think it’s kind of punting on a decision,” she said. Ashcraft agreed. Moments later Oddie read an email he had just received from a member of the Alameda Renters Coalition sitting in the City Council chambers. The message called Oddie a “coward,” he said, for not supporting just cause regulations, including a vow to oppose his run for re-election next year. Oddie said the email amounts to “political blackmail” and indicative of the divisiveness within the city’s fight between tenants and landlords.
Matarrese then joined the fray, questioning whether Oddie had broken council rules by accessing his email while on the dais. All this before the council eventually decided to adjourn and continue the rent ordinance to this Friday, April 7, 5:30 p.m.