With the din of tenants demanding greater rent protections becoming louder throughout the city, the Hayward City Council unanimously approved an emergency just-cause ordinance Tuesday night despite protests from a large number of landlords.
The speed and urgency of the vote is a notable reversal in Hayward, which in recent years has shown a predilection toward a long and deliberative process, including the use of committees and task forces to study even its most pressing problems.
“I am deeply rooted in the neighborhoods and I hear their concerns,” said Councilmember Elisa Marquez, who offered the referral during the Feb. 26 meeting. “We’ve been putting these decisions off for years,”
Marquez said last week that the pace of the city’s efforts to stem rising rents and displacement of its residents is far too slow, while criticizing the demeaning tone of some landlords participating in recent discussion with city leaders and tenant activists.
Marquez also feared some landlords would use the interregnum before city staff’s ongoing work on an amended rent stabilization ordinance due to return to the council in late spring or summer to significant raise rents and evict tenants.
A number of landlords told the council Tuesday night that the emergency ordinance was rushed and failed to give stakeholders a chance to process the proposal. “It’s not new information,” said Marquez. “Everyone knows this information is coming.”
Caryl Mahar, the executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Southern Alameda County said 150 local landlords had signed a petition in opposition to the emergency ordinance. She asked the council to pursue additional public outreach and study the data for “facts not fears,” said Mahar. “Let’s slow down and give this the time it deserves.”
Earlier in the day, the landlords-backed RHA attempted to scuttle Tuesday night’s agenda item, asserting in a letter to the city that the emergency ordinance is a violation of the Brown Act, the state law requiring transparency in government deliberations.
Landlords believe Tuesday’s agenda item is illegal since an action was taken at the council’s Feb. 26 without a majority of the council. Marquez made the emergency ordinance referral that night with a majority in favor. Two councilmembers were absent last week. Moreover, at the Feb. 19 meeting, the council voiced majority support for a number of rent-related protections, including just-cause, in a direction to city staff.
But the city disagreed with the RHA’s position. Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson noted the section of the Brown Act, but added during Tuesday night’s meeting that the letter omits another portion of the act that covers referrals. Lawson recommended the council proceed with the item.
The emergency ordinance applies existing just-cause protections to roughly 7,000 housing units not currently regulated by its rent stabilization ordinance. The emergency ordinance also covers single-family rental homes. Hayward has 22,237 total rental units built before 1979, according to the city. The new emergency ordinance now includes so called “mom and pop” landlords, which the city previously termed as property owners with four rental units or fewer.
“This is a sham emergency rent ordinance,” said Hayward resident and landlord John Morra, who added the ordinance will force property owners to sell and only pad the city’s bottom line through its Real Property Transfer Tax, which Hayward voters chose to increase last November.
“Most of the people opposing just-cause are using fear-mongering,” said Hayward resident Veronica Solorio. “I don’t understanding why they’re using this tactic? If they’re responsible, they have no reason to fear.”
The council’s 7-0 vote in favor of the emergency ordinance, however, glossed over apprehension from at least two councilmembers, who appeared leaning toward no votes. In order for an emergency ordinance to immediately take effect, a supermajority of the council is required. In this case, five of seven Hayward councilmembers. Four votes would have approved the ordinance, but it would not have become law until the next council meeting in two weeks.
The fifth and deciding vote Tuesday night was not known until Mayor Barbara Halliday, the last councilmember to speak, said she would support the emergency ordinance, although she questioned if it was the correct avenue for getting it done. “We all know we are losing people in this city,” she said.
Halliday’s decision ultimately switched Councilmember Al Mendall from a soft no to yes. Earlier, Mendall worried whether the ordinance would hinder the city’s existing social nuisance ordinance. After finding little agreement from city staff and some of his council colleagues, Mendall asked for staff to study the issue and bring back a determination. “What’s the harm to wait two weeks?” Mendall asked.
Councilmember Sara Lamnin appeared highly torn between approval and sending the just-cause proposal to the newly formed Housing and Homelessness Committee, which she will chair. “But I also don’t want to create policy based on fear,” said Lamnin, who paused several times during her remarks. “Everybody is looking at me for my answer,” said Lamnin. “I’m talking myself through it.” She concluded her remarks without taking a definitive stance.
In addition to Marquez, the majority of the council was clear in their deep concerns for the displacement of Hayward residents during a housing crisis that is now hitting the city with nearly the same ferocity as its neighbors to the north and south.
The emergency ordinance does not affect development, said Councilmember Aisha Wahab, an assertion made by many landlords Tuesday night. Wahab also noted that many of the landlords who spoke are not Hayward residents.
“It’s not about landlords and tenants. The conversation for me is about being fair and just,” she added. “Maybe this is a generational thing. I want to act fast. I want act now, and I want to act tonight.”
Councilmembers Francisco Zermeño and Mark Salinas, both college professors, were deeply affected by stories of housing insecurity constantly told to them by their college students.
“You guys are good people,” Salinas told the remaining group of landlords in the council chambers. “But I’ve seen more examples over the years of outright disregard for tenants.” Salinas also doubted the emergency ordinance will adversely effect the rental housing business in Hayward. “I believe we need something and we need something now,” he added.