BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
After 60 people pleaded for and against rent control in Palo Alto, City Council split 4-3 last night (Oct. 16) and rejected the idea of a study on whether the city should beef up rental regulations.
Before the meeting, three council members — Karen Holman, Lydia Kou and Tom DuBois — sent the rest of the council a memo suggesting that the city conduct a study to investigate ways to protect tenants. Forty-four percent of Palo Alto residents are renters.
Ideas they wanted investigated would have included an annual percentage cap on rent increases for buildings of five or more housing units built before Feb. 1, 1995 and measures to protect tenants against termination without just cause.
The public hearing quickly became a debate on rent control.
“While I wish rent control worked to do all the right things, it does not,” said property manager Heather Sirk. “I think we all want a silver bullet for affordable housing.”
Other community leaders, including the heads of both of Palo Alto Unified School District’s employee unions, said teachers and other employees needed these protections.
“Whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, you’re a resident, and residents should have stability. A house isn’t just an investment. A house is a home,” said one renter advocate.
Several speakers pointed out that the supply of housing was the problem. Only 44 new apartments have been built in the past three years.
The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto last month was $2,846, up 7% from last year, according to RentCafe.com. For a two-bedroom apartment, the average is $3,670.
Proposal called misguided
After the public hearing, the proposal for a study was debated by the council.
Councilman Adrian Fine shot down the idea as misguided, arguing that rent control pulls rental units off the market and reduce the city’s tax base by lowering property tax revenues.
“I’m trying to be respectful here,” Fine said. “The academic research is quite clear on this.”
Mayor Greg Scharff agreed, pointing to what he said were the unintended consequences of rent control: landlords being stuck with undesirable tenants, traffic congestion and taking units off the market. He also argued that retail workers wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment in Palo Alto if they can’t already, even with rent control.
“We talk about janitors, teachers, retail workers. There’s no indication that those are the people we’ll be helping,” Scharff said. “It’s just a political statement.”
Wolbach looking for a ‘sincere’ discussion
In the end, the memo’s three authors couldn’t sway any other council members to study what they referred to as a moderate set of protections.
“Property owners clearly want a regulation that doesn’t go too far,” DuBois said. “We need to help people absorb the change by just limiting the impacts from year to year.”
Councilman Cory Wolbach said the housing crisis was “fundamentally a supply and demand problem” and that council was already addressing demand by limiting office development.
“I look forward to a future discussion about renter protections, that is sincere, that is thoughtful and that moves forward,” Wolbach said.
Last fall, voters in Mountain View approved rent control while similar measures in San Mateo and Burlingame were defeated.