News

Two newcomers picked to join rent control committee

Former alternate Julian Pardo de Zela appointed to full term

The Rental Housing Committee, which administers the city's complex rent control program, will be getting two new members. At its Jan. 15 meeting, the Mountain View City Council picked Susyn Almond, a business consultant, as the rental committee's newest full member.

Another addition to the committee will be Nicole Haines-Livesay, a compliance manager with Merrill Lynch, who was selected to fill the committee's alternate seat. Meanwhile, Julian Pardo de Zela, an employment law attorney who previously served as the committee's alternate and was appointed to fill Tom Means' vacated seat in September, was appointed to a full term.

Those selections were made after the City Council conducted about two hours of interviews to vet the pool of candidates.

Of the seven applicants, Almond in particular impressed the council with her knowledge of the city's rent control law, known as the Community Fair Rent and Stabilization Act (CSFRA).

"I believe in a thoughtful and caring implementation of the CSFRA; the Rental Housing Committee has to serve the entire community, including its stakeholders," Almond said. "Because of my varied housing experience, I have compassion for the plight of tenants and housing providers. I get along with diverse personalities and remain calm under pressure."

Asked what she would change if appointed, Almond pointed to the committee's approved standards to guarantee that apartment owners can still earn a fair rate of return under rent control. She indicated that this standard shouldn't be based on inflation and should be reconsidered. The petition process meant to address exceptional cases also needed to be revisited, she said, pointing out that it had a reputation for being slow and cumbersome.

Similarly, Haines-Livesay also positioned herself as a middle-of-the-road pick. As a former manager for a private equity real estate firm, she said that property investment needed to stay profitable, but she insisted a residential neighborhood had other types of non-monetary value that deserved protection.

"I was pleased when I saw rent control pass because I saw it as a good way to balance these two opposing forces," she said. "In my personal view, the value of the Rental Housing Committee is to ensure we're being as balanced as possible."

Nearly all the candidates echoed similar themes, pledging they were committed to fairness, providing balance and listening to both sides. The candidates made it a point to avoid taking any explicit sides in the landlord-tenant feuding that has overshadowed the committee up to this point.

Pardo de Zela was no exception -- he was largely able to lean on his experience as a sitting Rental Housing Committee member to prove his qualifications, but that also carried some baggage. At the recommendation of Councilman Lucas Ramirez, all candidates were asked if they would ever go against their attorney's legal advice.

This question carried greater weight for Pardo de Zela. He had previously voted with a majority of the committee to go against the advice of legal counsel on the effective start date of rent control. Tenants advocates successfully sought a court order that forced the committee to reverse itself and follow the attorney's original advice.

However, the opinion of the rental committee's attorneys hasn't always prevailed in court. The committee's legal team opined that mobile homes should be covered under the CSFRA, a recommendation that the Rental Housing Committee rejected. A judge later upheld the committee's decision after mobile home residents took the matter to court.

Pardo de Zela said he would only part ways with legal advice on matters that were a "close call."

"When you're in a gray area and reasonable people could disagree, that's where the Rental Housing Committee has leeway," he said.

Councilman Ramirez raised some concerns about Pardo de Zela, but eventually backed him when it became clear the incumbent had support from the rest of the council. As they discussed the candidates, the City Council members quickly went through their top picks and it became clear that Almond and Haines-Livesay had wide support. They were appointed in a unanimous vote to serve four-year terms.

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Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Yimby #2
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2019 at 6:41 pm

A positive takeaway is that Almond may *reconsider* tying rent hikes to inflation. Inflation does not necessarily correlate with with the costs of running a property. An issue is poor accounting standards which overstates revenue and understates expenses for Housing Provider. For example, increases in water, garbage, and energy went up and are not factored in rent increases. My property tax bill is up $1000 year over year. Housing providers are also paying a fee to support the $2.6 M Measure V bureaucracy. All these things add up, and Housing Providers pay our bills and do not having the luxury of wishing them away based on ideology.

In the private sector, we would be cited for not adhering to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles if we arbitrarily excluded expenses. But that is what is happening on the Measure V Program. In the private sector we would clearly communicate the changes in expenses using standard metrics. Some examples include % of revenue, % increase year over year, % increases in total expenses. Instead, Emily just says, "It's not much". Accounting practices on this program should be improved to reflect the real world, and the real impact on Housing Providers. When we write those expense checks, that is real money leaving our P & L. I hope Almond will use here experience and expertise to bring some level of professionalism to the Measure V program.

One more story to make a point. While some of the people behind Measure V may have good intentions, they really need to improve their economic, accounting, and finance capability. Or you end up with failed programs which do more harm than good, and yield unintended consequences. That is what is happening here. Reminds me of a Measure V supporter I listened to to understand her point of view. I pointed how how Berkeley Rent Control resulted in insufficient revenues to maintain properties. She pointed out that her friend took out a home equity loan to pay for roof/paint ect. Here is what this nice young lady did not understand. Her friend had to take out the Home Equity Loan because he/she did not have enough cash from revenue to pay for maintenance/replacement. So they are piling more debt on top of the 1st mortgage. And the interest on the home equity loan goes to the banker instead of the the painter or roofer. Just burying your self in more debt. So get this Measure V Program on a more professional footing, and start accounting and understand all the expenses landing on top of the Housing Providers. After you have the data, you can make better quality decisions.


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