LocationAlhambra , CA
The Alhambra City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve an urgency ordinance that prohibits no-fault terminations of tenancy and evictions and limits rent increases for residential property through the end the year.
The measure will act as a bridge to cover local residents until AB 1482, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in early October, takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020. That measure contained no immediate date leaving the potential for snap evictions and large rent increases to be put in place.
Some cities around the state, including Los Angeles, Pasadena and South Pasadena, have enacted similar bridge measures.
Alhambra’s ordinance, which Asst. City Attorney Greg Murphy said, “mirrors the state law,” takes effect immediately and will cover those “not yet evicted and those currently fighting eviction.”
The council’s 5-0 vote came after public testimony from more than 20 speakers that ran for nearly two hours. The often emotional testimony was presented by tenants facing eviction—some as early as the end of this week–housing rights advocates, community organizers, legal aid officials and concerned residents of the city. There was no overt opposition to the measure during the comment period.
The overall tone of the pro-measure comments was in keeping with last Tuesday’s special council meeting, called by Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler, to consider seeking an urgency ordinance in light of reports of rent spikes and threats of eviction in the city.
Many of the comments from activists pressed the point that “housing in a human right” and that in Alhambra, a city where 60% of the residents are renters, the council must represent the needs of all, including those struggling financially.
Some of the comments were strongly pointed.
Resident Barbara Aguayo took Council member Ross Maza to task for his perceived lack of enthusiasm for the urgency ordinance. She reminded Maza that he had participated in an affordable housing forum in May and had pledged to those seeking relief, in comments delivered both in Spanish and English, that he would do what he could on the affordable housing issue. Aguayo and her husband Jose Aguayo had contributed to the event as Spanish-language translators.
In her view, Maza’s comment at last week’s meeting that there were “two sides to this issue” was a repudiation of his pledge at the housing rights forum and that essentially he had “lied” to those in attendance. Aguayo vowed to seek his recall if he voted the wrong way on this issue.
In council comment before the vote, Maza seemed taken aback by this public criticism and similar like-minded comments online. He maintained that he had never expressed opposition to the urgency ordinance but had sought data on the issue as it relates to Alhambra to give a firm base to the ordinance and his decision-making process. He reminded the audience that as elected officials council members had a responsibility to serve all segments of Alhambra’s population, property owners as well as tenants.
He said his position from the affordable housing forum had not changed and that that city is moving forward on that front but that these efforts “take time.” He pointed to recent progress in planning a new affordable housing complex in the city. He invited Aguayo to meet with him for a productive conversation on his views.
Maza, now the deputy mayor who will be sworn in as mayor when Andrade-Stadler completes her term in a few weeks, went on to criticize online public comment that suggested that there are large divisions on the council and that there are “two councils in Alhambra.” He said that this tone of divisiveness is counterproductive and “has to stop.”
One by one, he commented on the relationship he had with each of his colleagues on the council and said that while they may differ on some issues they have good working relationships and are all invested in progress for Alhambra.
Each of the council members, in turn, voiced support for the urgency ordinance and, in the case of Council member David Mejia, offered anecdotes of his family’s housing struggle when he was a child. Katherine Lee, who said she has never had to rent, expressed her concern for those facing eviction and the terrible fear they must feel.
In brief remarks before public comment, Council member Jeff Maloney thanked city staff for turning this urgency ordinance around in just a few days from last Tuesday’s meeting using the public testimony from that meeting as the factual base for the ordinance. Time, both in terms of facilitating Tuesday’s definitive council vote and in countering the threat of evictions for some residents, was clearly of the essence.
The vote was met with sustained applause and whoops from those in the council meeting room, that was packed after a rally in front of City Hall sponsored by the Coalition to Stop Unfair Evictions in Alhambra, which drew about 30 activists.
There were other important items on the council agenda as well.
The last voting measure, which came about 10:45 p.m., was the consideration of an ordinance calling for a special election on March 3, 2020, the date of the California primary, for the purpose of submitting the three-quarter percent general transactions and use tax (sales tax) to the voters for infrastructure improvement, hiring to fill several police department openings and other matters.
In public comment, several speakers criticized a recently mailed public survey that asked residents to choose which items were most important to them but most were considered vital public services and not subject to being cut. Questions were raised about city sponsored funding for items like the Rose Parade float, the Fourth of July Fireworks and the decorative flower pots that adorn bridges over some of the city’s busy streets.
Council members heard the concerns and some conceded that the survey might have been handled in a better manner. But they also believed that the tax measure—which would raise more than $8 million a year—was vital for the financial underpinnings of the city. The council voted 5-0 in support of moving forward with this ordinance. City staff will work on it for second read at an upcoming meeting.
Another item on the agenda was city staff’s recommendation of the adoption of a bike plan. But after much comment from residents about safety issues on the city’s busy streets and where this plan fit with the bike plans from other cites as well concerns that the plan was out of date, it was decided that no vote should be taken. The plan was returned to city staff for more work and suggestions on how to make improvements.
Maloney, who has some interest in alternative means of transportation, was asked to work with city staff on appropriate next steps for the plan to make it as current as possible and attractive for grant funding.