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Publication Date: Friday, February 16, 2001

PULL QUOTE:

"While we know we need to work within the 10-month framework... we are concerned about what (renters) in Mountain View will have to do in the next month." -Commissioner Carol Moholt

EPC to tell council to consider rent control EPC to tell council to consider rent control (February 16, 2001)

Planning commission cites widespread community concern

Justin Scheck

For months, Mountain View residents have been speaking out about the city's housing crisis.

But other than long-term policy considerations, and an efficiency studio project that has been in the works for over a decade, renters have seen little political action from the city's power structure aimed at solving the current problem.

Last week the city's Environmental Planning Commission, in response to calls from dozens of residents to put a cap on evictions and rising rents, made the decision to urge the city council to address the issue of rent control as soon a possible.

After holding a workshop Jan. 31 to gain public input for a new city housing plan, commissioners were struck by the number of community members who feel that rent relief should be one of the city's priorities.

Nearly 100 community members came to the workshop, and after being split into five discussion groups, each group identified rent control as a possible solution for the city's housing woes.

In their Feb. 7 discussion of the workshop, the commission decided to have its chair, Tom Frankum, draft a letter with Mike Percy, the city's principal planner, to encourage the council to study the issue of rent relief.

Percy said council members will not receive the letter until March 1, as the council is still working on finding a location for the efficiency studios, as well as discussing a potential housing impact fee that would charge developers of new business sites in order to fund affordable housing.

Commissioner Carol Moholt said the housing workshop was the beginning of a 10-month process to craft a new housing element for the city's general plan.

But the commissioners felt that the urgency of the issue called for faster action.

"While we know we need to work within the 10-month framework... we are concerned about what (renters) in Mountain View will have to do in the next month," said Moholt.

Percy said there was widespread concern expressed at the housing workshop about people being forced to leave the community due to rising rents.

"A very strong comment came out of many of the participants about the need for addressing the rising rent... particularly as it affects people with lower income who do not have the flexibility to deal with these increases," said Percy. "The commission wanted to be sure that the input they received from the community, because of the urgency of that input, would get to the council."

Moholt said that, because the EPC does not have a specific charter from the council to study rent control, the commission can take no immediate position on the issue.

Council member Matt Pear, who has said that he opposes rent control, said last week that he had not yet heard about the letter, and that he would need to study the housing situation at length before considering any sort of rent relief measure.

"I think all subsidized housing items should be conducted as a ballot initiative," Pear said.

Pear said he believes the free market will rectify the problem, either through rising annual incomes or stabilized rents.

Council member Sally Lieber said rent control "always comes up because of the high percentage of rental housing in Mountain View."

"I wouldn't be opposed to a study of it. But I think we have a lot of other priorities now, with the housing impact fee... There's only so far we can stretch city staff. But I would be open to considering anything the community is expressing concern about," said Lieber.

Lieber said that there are different types of rent control laws for mobile homes and apartments, and she would like to know what the city's various options are before she forms an opinion on the issue.

Commissioner Paul Lesti said he does not necessarily have an opinion on whether a rent control measure is needed, but he does feel that the council should consider such an issue in a timely manner.

"Housing is a complicated issue. I don't think there's a silver bullet that will solve it... but (the commission) wanted to tell the city that something needs to get done," he said.

Phil Cosby, a member of the pro-rent control group Peninsula Interfaith Action, attended the housing element workshop.

Cosby said he was pleased to see that city officials were listening to the community's concerns, but added that the action is coming late.

"We've been pushing for (the council) to take action since last October, and in October we thought we were a little bit behind because of the evictions and rent increases that were happening... The first headway I've seen is this letter from the Environmental Planning Commission," he said.

Cosby said that the housing problems in the community are so advanced that the city should take emergency measures to prevent further evictions.

"I, personally, am not all that much in favor of rent control, but we've got to have something to control the greed... It's not that all landlords are gouging the tenants, but enough are to make it a serious problem," said Cosby.

Cosby said he has considered coming up with a ballot initiative for a rent control measure, but would rather see the council address the issue for the sake of expediency.

"I think they have the responsibility to seriously consider it," he said.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said that while she is "open to discuss anything," she has serious reservations about rent control and the amount of community support a rent control measure would actually have.

"There have been a lot of indications at election time, in various forms, that rent control is not supported within the city," said Stasek. "It is not a long-term solution, and it would really affect the housing stock in the city."

Moreover, she said, the calls for short-term or limited rent control measures are "not realistic. Once you have (rent control), it is really impossible to undo it."

"My opinions of rent control come from my experience and my concern for the community as a whole," said Stasek, citing her experiences with rent control in Santa Monica.

Similarly, Lieber said she has heard of problems with rent control in Berkeley and other communities.




 

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