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.