A proposal in Palo Alto to prevent evictions before California's rent-cap law takes effect will not be discussed until early next month after the City Council, erroneously citing a shortage of members present on Monday, delayed the hearing.
The ordinance, which was proposed by Council members Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou, would bar landlords from evicting residents without fault before Jan. 1, 2020, when Assembly Bill 1482 is set to kick in. The bill caps annual rent increases at 5% plus inflation and offers protections from no-fault evictions.
But the council never got to take up the proposal. Councilwoman Liz Kniss recused herself from the discussion because her family owns an apartment building. She announced at the beginning of the meeting that she would be recusing out of "an abundance of caution." With Vice Mayor Adrian Fine on a business trip and absent from the meeting, Mayor Eric Filseth indicated that the council wouldn't have enough votes to pass an urgency ordinance.
Filseth said that his understanding was that, as an urgency ordinance, the proposal would require approval from six council members. With Kniss recused and Fine absent, that left five colleagues available for the vote. Filseth called it a "delicate issue."
The draft ordinance provided to the council by the City Attorney's Office seemed to back up Filseth. It states that municipal code section 2.04.270 “authorizes the adoption of an urgency ordinance … by four-fifths of the council.” Four-fifths of a seven-member council is 5.6 members -- or, rounded up, six.
In fact, the council only needed five votes to pass the urgency ordinance. The city's code states that an urgency ordinance to preserve public peace, health and safety "may be introduced and adopted at one and the same meeting if passed by a vote of four-fifths of the council members present."
City Attorney Molly Stump said on Wednesday that for the purposes of the urgency ordinance, recused members count but absent members do not. With six members counted, five would have needed to support the ordinance for it to advance.
After Filseth indicated that the council needed six votes and no one at the meeting corrected him, the council approved a motion to continue the discussion until Dec. 2, its next meeting.
Like similar efforts in Menlo Park, Los Angeles and Redwood City, Palo Alto's proposed ordinance is intended as a stop-gap measure to keep landlords from evicting tenants and raising rents before AB 1482 takes effect, notwithstanding a provision that landlords must use rent levels from no later than March 2019 as the basis for applying a rent increase.
The ordinance drafted states that because AB 1482 does not go into effect until Jan. 1, landlords "could seek to evict tenants without cause in order to implement rent increases that would not otherwise be possible after the effective date."
The memo from Kou and DuBois argued that "escalating real estate values with the assistance of the deregulation of zoning provides an incentive to landlords to evict long-term, lower-income tenants, in order to raise rents and attract wealthier tenants."
The delay means that even if the ordinance passes, it will be in effect for a little less than a month -- until Dec. 31 -- before it expires.