After months of screening candidates, Mountain View City Council members have finally landed on their picks for the city's inaugural rental-housing committee. The five-person panel and one alternate member were chosen by the council after a final round of interviews at a Tuesday, April 4, meeting.
The final committee choices are Tech Museum coordinator Emily Ramos, a renter; attorney Julian Pardo de Zela and former City Council member Tom Means, both homeowners; LinkedIn manager Matthew Grunewald, an apartment owner; and Vanessa Honey, a property manager for MPM Corporation.
Evan Ortiz, a Google account manager who helped lead the successful campaign for the Measure V rent control law, was sidelined by the majority of council members who made him an alternate member of the committee.
The council's choice took on a new urgency the very next day, when a judge refused to grant an injunction that would prevent the city's voter-approved rent control from being enacted until a landlord group's lawsuit against it is fully resolved.
While the council has made its final choice for rental housing committee at its April 4 meeting, council members held off on formally appointing their selections until a ruling in the lawsuit was handed down.
Earlier on Tuesday, a judge heard oral arguments in the case over whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would continue blocking Measure V from being implemented. His decision was wasn't expected for a week or more. But with the injunction request denied, the city will need to quickly take action to formally appoint the rental housing committee.
In a final political trade-off, the council decided to bump accountant James Leonard from the committee. Leonard, a homeowner, was viewed as a middle-of-the-road pick, but the council instead opted to replace him with Honey, a last-minute candidate who emerged after the process was reopened last month in a search for new applicants.
Honey clearly won over both sides of the council as she was interviewed Tuesday and detailed her experience managing low-income housing and rent-controlled units. She praised the Measure V rent-control law as well-written, and pledged to use her position to foster dialogue between renters and landlords.
"A well-run committee could make fair decisions if we stay on task and understand what we're being asked to do," Honey said in her interview. "I'm a proponent of collaboration. We have to work together -- we are a community."
Council members unanimously agreed she deserved a position on the committee.
But other decisions of the evening weren't so amicable, especially as it came to culling the list down to six. Council members found common ground on the need for a diversity of viewpoints on the committee in terms of gender, race and housing status, but they still disagreed over whom to cut.
Councilman Lenny Siegel, the council's lone Measure V supporter, made an emphatic plea to his colleagues not to boot rent control supporters from the committee, particularly Ramos and Ortiz. Otherwise, he warned, the council would be seen as stacking the committee with members who sympathized more with landlords.
"I urge those of you who didn't support Measure V to work now to establish trust," Siegel said. "If we don't do that, I think there will be a lot of mistrust in the community that we're trying to undermine this."
That view wasn't shared by most of his colleagues. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak pointed out there were plenty of applicants who rented homes and weren't immersed in the politics of rent control.
"I don't think it will undermine trust if we have people who are independent," she said. "I personally cannot support having two people (on the committee) who were very much involved with Measure V."
Another lightning rod was Means, a Libertarian who had written a guest opinion piece opposing Measure V that was printed in the Voice. Mayor Ken Rosenberg, Councilwoman Pat Showalter and Siegel voted to make Means the alternate member on the committee. But the rest of the council resisted, describing Means as an independent thinker who would benefit the new committee with his policy experience.
In turn, each council member announced his or her pick for an alternate member, and it became clear it would fall on either Ortiz or Ramos. Rosenberg voted with council members Chris Clark, John McAlister, Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak to make Ortiz the alternate member.
Picking the right members for the new committee has clearly been a crucial concern for city leaders. The process, which started in December, drew more than 25 candidates, most of whom were interviewed in person by the council, some more than once.
Last month, a thin majority of the council voted to reopen applications for the committee, based on concerns that Mountain View landlords weren't being adequately represented.
The new committee will wield significant authority, second only to the City Council. Among its duties, the committee can determine how rigorously to enforce Measure V's provisions and is charged with setting citywide rent limits based on increases in the local Consumer Price Index. Additionally, the committee can hire its own staff and levy fees on landlords to offset the costs.
That degree of power troubled most council members in the weeks leading up to the election. The council will not be able to remove committee members after they are appointed to a four-year term, and some council members expressed concern over what would happen if a committee member went "rogue," overzealously pursuing landlords and creating a legal quagmire on the city's dime.