BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Why a controversial ordinance on rent increases was pulled before the Menlo Park City Council meeting is unclear, but it might be because city officials are worried about getting sued.
The tenant relocation ordinance, which would limit rent increases in Menlo Park, was supposed to be on the council’s Tuesday agenda but was pulled by City Attorney Bill McClure.
The Post has called McClure twice this week to find out why the ordinance was sidelined, but as of 10 last night, he had not called back.
Under the proposal, a tenant would get a payment equal to three months’ rent if the rent went up by more than 5% plus the Bay Area consumer price index, or CPI, now 4.3%. That would limit rent increases to 9.3% a year.
If a landlord increased the rent by more than 9.3% and that forced a tenant to move out, the landlord would have to pay the tenant three months’ rent as “relocation assistance.”
But during public comment at Tuesday’s council meeting, Housing Commission Chair Meg McGraw-Scherer mentioned that the rental relocation ordinance was the reason the council met behind closed doors.
McGraw-Scherer also said that she understands there is a fear of a lawsuit over the ordinance, but that it’s “not really something to be concerned about.”
According to the city council’s closed session agenda, the council was set to have a “conference with legal counsel on anticipated litigation pursuant to Government Code 54956.9(d)(2).”
That code says “litigation shall be considered pending” when the circumstance (the “2” in the code), is found.
The circumstance that is cited in the agenda item is: “a point has been reached where, in the opinion of the legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency.”
Landlord group hasn’t made threat
Rhovy Lyn Antonio, vice president of public affairs for the California Apartment Association, said in an email to the Post that the CAA has not “issued any legal feedback” to the council on the proposed ordinance.
“The city council should carefully consider any legal ambiguities and issues that might exist in the proposal to avoid possible legal challenges from impacted stakeholders,” Antonio said.
Commission Chair McGraw-Scherer on Tuesday asked the council not to put the ordinance to the side, and to not wait and see what happens with a Santa Cruz law that is similar.
Santa Cruz proposal
Santa Cruz’s city council is working on a similar law that would keep landlords from raising rent more than 5% in one year or cumulatively more than 7% in two consecutive years, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Additionally, if the landlord raises the rent above the 5% or 7% cap, they must pay the tenant two months’ rent.
However, at the Santa Cruz council’s Jan. 22 meeting, the council backed off of the ordinance, after residents spoke up to say they felt that the “council, rather than the community” was the force behind the ordinance, the Sentinel reported. Santa Cruz voters defeated a rent control ballot measure last November.
Santa Cruz’s city council is set to discuss their ordinance on Feb. 12, which is the first possible date when the Menlo Park council could discuss its ordinance.