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Tuesday's ordinance requires that a hearing officer facilitate rent disputes between landlords and tenants. The move essentially signals the end of the advisory committee. A separate ordinance will be proposed at the council's Sept. 1 meeting to officially eliminate the committee.
The ordinance will create a rent registry in order for the city to track rent increases and record when landlords bank rent increases and then subsequently cash in on them.
City staff had recommended allowing rent increases at 100 percent of the consumer price index, while renters groups pushed for 65 percent. But Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Aschraft, worried about landlords maintaining a fair rate of return on their properties, urged for at least 75 percent of CPI.
In conversations with landlords, Ashcraft said they feel under attack. "I just want us not to judge the landlords by the most egregious among them." Councilmember John Knox White joined Ashcraft by urging for a slightly greater percentage of CPI before reaching a compromise of 70 percent.
As with other rent-related discussions at City Hall in recent months, Councilmember Tony Daysog was the lone opponent of Tuesday night's proposals. After presenting three sets of charts that laid out his claim for maintaining the city's status quo, Daysog said, "The hard data confirms Ordinance 3148 is working," describing the previous rent stabilization laws by its ordinance number. "The data does not support wholesale changes."
Alameda begins work on charter reform
Despite a highly critical grand jury report last week that skewered Alameda City Hall and urged it to bolster the city charter's rules governing councilmember interference in municipal administration, Alameda officials actually have been working on the issue for more than six months.
Marilyn Ezzy Aschraft's first act as mayor in December 2018 was to form an ad-hoc committee to study potential changes to the charter. She tabbed Councilmembers Daysog and John Knox White with leading the effort. Making such changes is a painstakingly long process since they must be made through a vote of the people.
The grand jury and an independent investigation by the city into allegations that Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella interfered in the city manager's power to select a new fire chief both prescribed adding clarity to the charter's flimsy firewall between the decision-making duties granted elected officials and the city manager.
However, a pair of workshops last week hinted at some of the progress the ad-hoc committee has made in narrowing down other potential charter reforms.
Among the changes being considered is switching from at-large to district elections for councilmembers. Ranked-choice voting, the election system used by Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro also is a possibility. And Knox White's 2018 proposal to rotate the mayor's position among the five councilmembers also is on the table. The arrangement is typically seen in smaller cities like nearby Emeryville, which has a population of over 10,000. Alameda rotated its mayor prior to 1972.
A potential more inflammatory reform, at least for Alameda moderates and conservatives, is the proposed elimination of the city auditor and city treasurer as elected offices. The current holders of the office are viewed among conservatives as vocal counterweights to the firefighters union's dominance in city politics.
Some proposals, meanwhile, could avoid the travails of a ballot measure. The council could simply enact some reforms as ordinances, such as campaign ethics rules and campaign finance restrictions, the latter of which is non-existent in Alameda. Councilmembers also could increase their own pay, although the optics of elected officials giving themselves a raise are not positive, even given their extremely low current rate of pay.
Alameda's mayor has not received a pay increase since 1970 and earns an annual salary of just $3,600. By contrast, the mayor in similarly sized San Leandro earns $25,000 a year. Councilmembers have it even worse, earning $1,200 a year without a pay raise since 1977, according to the League of Women Voters. The low pay, critics fear, sidelines working people from running for offices and favors the well-to-do and retired people.
In Other News ...
A U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that a 2016 Berkeley ordinance requiring cell phone companies to warn customers their product can expose them to radiation is legal, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. ... U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ called for an independent review of a June 26 arrest by U.C. Police of two black children, Berkeleyside reported. ... A statewide measure to reform Proposition 13 is headed to the November 2020 ballot, but some county assessors believe the measure would be very hard to implement, the Chronicle reported. ... Oakland's Department of Transportation announced the selection and regulation of four e-scooter companies — Lime, Bird, Clevr, and Lyft — Bay City News reported. ...
Billionaire Bay Area environmentalist Tom Steyer entered the Democratic primary field. ... Sen. Kamala Harris's presidential campaign paid off the remaining $122,327 of its bill to the City of Oakland for its campaign kickoff event at City Hall, the Chron reported. Meanwhile, Harris returned to Iowa with a retooled campaign message highlighting her role as a prosecutor, district attorney, and attorney general, the Washington Post reported. ... Rising ocean temperatures and a record-breaking heat wave in the Bay Area last spring led to the die-off of an estimated 70 percent of mussels in Bodega Bay, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported.