Late this past Tuesday night, tenant protections proved a no-go at Milpitas’ City Council meeting.

Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez and Mayor Rich Tran voted to support moving forward on urgency ordinances for both just cause and rent control, but were outnumbered by “no” votes from Councilmembers Bob Nuñez, Carmen Montano, and Anthony Phan.

The meeting made for a tense three hours, with many from Milpitas and surrounding areas present to speak out either for or against tenant protections during Public Comment.

The rent control ordinance, had it passed, would have capped price increases at 7 percent of the Consumer Price Index for the year before, and only included properties built before 1995. This means that all developments in the Transit Area Specific Plan (TASP) would not have been affected by the ordinance. Building Director Sharon Goei mentioned that roughly 200 buildings in Milpitas — around 2,500 units total — would be impacted. Single-family homes, which Mayor Tran mentioned make up 2 out of 3 homes in Milpitas, would not be subject to rent control under the ordinance.

As for the just cause ordinance, it would have required landlords to have legitimate grounds for eviction, like failure to pay rent, engaging in illegal conduct, or breaching a lease.

 

Before Public Comment

 

Mayor Tran wasted no time bringing the issue into immediate focus, stating that historically Milpitas is a working class community, and that the city’s neighborhoods are rooted in fair housing: “We live in a tough time right now with the housing crisis. There simply is not enough housing for people,” said Mayor Tran. “Studies have shown a 30% increase in the number of new jobs, and only a 4% increase in the number of new homes. We are surrounded by the housing crisis discussion every single day.”

Vice Mayor Dominguez spoke of how she had researched the item for about 100 hours to get informed about the issue and co-write the ordinances. She also mentioned that she had engaged the community by doing interviews with hundreds of tenants and landlords, and even ventured out into the streets to see if she could find a rental in Milpitas that was affordable. (The answer she came up with was “no.”) “Let’s have a respectful conversation,” said Vice Mayor Dominguez. “Let’s have a conversation that’s going to move this city forward, all of us together…not forgetting anyone, not leaving anyone behind.”

 

During Public Comment

 

Each speaker had just one minute to occupy the floor. A few comments from both sides included…

 

In Favor of Protections

 

  • Allysson McDonald came up to state that the Board of Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association had unanimously voted to endorse tenant protection ordinances. “We felt this is appropriate because Sunnyhills and Milpitas, as the Mayor has pointed out, have a history of providing housing for folks from all walks of life, and because members of our community are being forced to leave, due to rent increases and unjustified evictions,” said McDonald.  

 

  • One woman spoke of how her landlord raised her rent without any warning by $400. Unfortunately, her family doesn’t have enough to cover the increase, and when they tried to use the money they did have to pay the rent, the landlord wouldn’t accept anything shy of a full payment. She asked for the Council’s assistance in helping her to keep her home, while keeping other families in her building from being evicted.

 

  • One gentleman brought up the fact that he had received a 3-day notice of a price hike, which is too high for him to afford.

 

Against Tenant Protections

 

  • Eddie Truong, Director of Government and Community Relations for The Silicon Valley Organization (SVO), spoke against the ordinances, saying that rent control has been shown to restrict housing supply, and would increase rent for those not subject to control. He spoke of a recent Stanford analysis showing that rent control had accelerated the gentrification of San Francisco’s Mission District.

 

  • One speaker mentioned that the only solution is to build more housing. She mentioned that enacting an urgency ordinance would set the city back and end up actually putting people on the streets.

 

  • One landlord mentioned: “Because I’ve been renting for so long, I’ve seen good tenants and I’ve seen bad tenants. Because of the just cause, it would be a burden get rid of bad tenants.”

 

Discussion After Public Comment

 

After Pubic Comment, Councilmember Nuñez brought up the idea of implementing a Living Wage ordinance in the city, so that they could “make sure the persons who live and work in the city can afford to rent or buy a home.”

Councilmember Montano pointed to the lack of affordable housing as the issue. Consistent with what she’d said at prior meetings, she mentioned that she’d like to create a Housing Commission, while pondering providing subsidies for public utilities (like water) and families who’ve experienced an emergency of some kind.

Councilmember Anthony Phan suggested an emergency relief fund to subsidize rent in urgent cases: “If you are in danger of being displaced or in the process of being displaced, or you need housing, that resource should be there for you,” he said. He also brought up the idea of the City of Milpitas collaborating with different partners and agencies in working to find housing for those displaced or at risk of being displaced.

“If they’re going to get kicked out of their community, that’s unacceptable. But what we should be doing is figure out how to get them another place, and figure out how to get them there,” said Phan. He also suggested allocating revenue from the Airbnb tax, which Council just approved last month, or the Transient Occupancy Tax, to put into the emergency relief fund. He even mentioned that the revenue from Cannabis might have been able to fund this, had Council been able to vote to open marijuana shops in Milpitas in the Fall of 2018.

Vice Mayor Dominguez, who co-authored both ordinances, was full of passion and emotion when she spoke after Public Comment: “It is not okay for our city to have haves and have nots,” said Dominguez. “I’ve heard people in the audience say, ‘Well, if you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else.’ That broke my heart. Because you’re telling me that I don’t belong here. I can’t afford to live here. I am blessed with the opportunity to have housing, because my parents sacrificed like many refugees from other countries, and many immigrants, that came here to fulfill the American Dream.”

Later in the discussion, Vice Mayor Dominguez also brought up the fact that when she wrote the ordinances, her intention was for Council to actually be able to vote on the enactment of them; and yet the way the item was written on the agenda that night only allowed for Council to provide direction to staff to research and put together ordinances, so as to bring them back at a later date.   

Vice Mayor Dominguez grilled City Manager Julie Edmonds-Mares on why the item on the agenda had not been based on enactment, as she had originally intended:

“I specifically remember our conversation, and when I introduced both memorandums and asked Councilmember Nuñez and Mayor Rich Tran to sign on, and did over 100 hours of work on this item, it wasn’t for a discussion,” said Vice Mayor Dominguez. “And I remember having that discussion with you. Did you make the decision to place the direction for conversation versus an enactment?”

“Madame Vice Mayor, I did my best to follow full Council direction, and full Council direction was made by Councilmember Nuñez to bring this item back for discussion. That’s why City staff is here today. That’s why we turned it around in a short period of time. We’re here to receive direction from the Council on any ordinance you’d like us to move forward on in the future,” replied Edmonds-Mares.  

More tension arose as Vice Mayor Dominguez came back with, “I will ask the question one more time. Julie–”

Mayor Rich Tran cut in, seemingly to diffuse the tension and also find clarity on whether or not enactment could be taken; but ultimately City Attorney Chris Diaz confirmed that the way the item had been written indeed only allowed for discussion and direction to staff.

Even with that tense moment behind them, more intensity followed when Councilmember Montano admitted to not having read the proposed ordinances, to which Vice Mayor Dominguez, openly irritated, replied, “You didn’t read the ordinance that you’re about to vote on?”  

In the end, the vote went 3-2 against the ordinances. Even Bob Nuñez, who co-authored one of the ordinances, chose to vote no.

It was decided that a Subcommittee, consisting of Councilmembers Montano and Nuñez, would be formed to start generating other ideas for the future. In the meantime, the problems pressing many Milpitas renters will remain unsolved.

 

Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works with nonprofit organizations to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also an author; her first book will be published by Llewellyn Worldwide in mid-2019. Her YouTube channel, which features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment, has amassed thousands of subscribers. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s founder.

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