The Mountain View City Council will not add members to the city's Rental Housing Committee (RHC) later this year, following an uproar by residents who slammed the proposal as an attempt to subvert the will of the voters this November.
The proposal, put forth by Councilman John McAlister, suggested that the council should interview candidates and appoint members to the RHC on or before Dec. 8 -- before the newly elected council members are sworn in next year. The selection of RHC members is the most direct influence the council has on the city's rent control law.
With two council members termed out of office this year and two others facing a competitive council race, the election is all but guaranteed to have a significant influence on the council's picks for the RHC. A slate of council candidates and renter advocates say the "lame-duck" council shouldn't rush appointments to the committee, some drawing a comparison to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's push to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court prior to the presidential election.
McAlister retracted his proposal at the Oct. 27 council meeting, saying that he didn't want to be part of the "divisiveness" that is splitting the city and the country. He said his goal was to appoint members to the RHC that would take a balanced approach to both renters and landlords, and that he was troubled by some of the one-sided rhetoric on the campaign trail.
"I initially put that (proposal) up after hearing many candidates and the public talk about how they were interested in 'packing' the RHC, and I was concerned about fairness and equity for rent control for both sides," McAlister said. "It has to be fair to everyone."
On the campaign trail, council candidate Paul Roales suggested the idea of expanding the committee's roster to seven, with each member picked by individual council members. The proposal would require an amendment to the rent control law as it exists today. Other candidates, particularly John Lashlee, have argued that the council should not appoint landlords to the RHC, and that renters should be well-represented on the committee.
Council candidate Alex Nunez, in a letter co-signed by candidates Sally Lieber, Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter and Lashlee, called the proposal "unprecedented and ill-advised," and said that there is no urgency to fill RHC positions that expire in April next year. Rather than wait until January -- which was the timeline for similar RHC appointments in 2019 -- Nunez said the city would be working on a compressed recruiting schedule right in the middle of the holiday season.
Nunez' letter also underscored that candidates have differing views on rent control, and that the public's opinion and perception of renter protections should be reflected in the upcoming appointments.
"To some degree the Nov. 3 council election is a referendum on the City Council's approach to rent control," Nunez wrote. "The election is underway. We should respect the will of the voters."
The Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance took a more aggressive stance, arguing in a letter that the council should be ashamed for trying to "ramrod" a critical vote on RHC replacements right before an election. The group said McAlister's proposed timeline would make Mitch McConnell proud, and that this is a clear attempt to pack the committee with appointees opposed to rent control.
"Mountain View residents are well aware of the total disdain that some council members have for rent control, and their past successful attempts to pack the RHC with opponents of rent control," the letter states. "These same members now stand ready to push through a new slate of RHC members before the results of the Nov. 3 election are even known."
Mobile homes are not currently covered by rent control in Mountain View due to a decision by the RHC to explicitly exclude them from renter protections. Residents across the city's six mobile home parks have made a strong political and legal push to overturn the decision since 2018.
At the meeting, resident Edie Keating said renters will be relieved after McAlister withdrew his proposal, in part because they remember the council's past attempt to weaken rent control through Measure D in March. Keating suggested that McAlister may have proposed the idea after getting marching orders from outside groups.
"We wonder who suggested (the item) to councilmember McAlister," she said. "We wonder who connected the California Apartment Association to work with the firefighters to promote anti-renter council candidates. Renters are relieved, but their trust is not restored."
McAlister fired back, and said he acted on his own behalf. He reiterated that he took the item off the agenda explicitly to avoid divisiveness.
"I wanted to start a healing process," McAlister said. "There was no other force other than just common decency trying to make the city a better area. So next time, get your facts."
After the meeting, McAlister said he was concerned that residents in the city have become too deeply entrenched in their views on rent control. Based on the comments made on the campaign trail, he said he worries the incoming council may try to stack the RHC with members who ignore the needs of landlords.
While McAlister ultimately dropped the idea of appointing members early, he said the proposal felt like a preemptive way to curb the divisiveness in the community and bring people together.
"We've got a lot of division," he said. "What's interesting is the rent control people feel very righteous in what they're doing, and yet they're the ones who are using the slur tactics, destroying signs, marking them up or putting other disrespectful signs out."
Other council members did not comment on McAlister's proposal, which was formally pulled from the agenda. The Brown Act prohibits council members from discussing topics not on the agenda.
Assuming the council mirrors the timeline for 2019 RHC vacancies, the council will instead vote to fill vacancies some time in mid-January next year. Committee members Matt Grunewald, Emily Ramos and Nicole Haines-Livesay all have terms that expire on April 17, 2021.