Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee (RHC), tasked with overseeing rent control in the city, is poised for big changes this year after the City Council voted Tuesday to demote one of the longest-serving members in favor of a newcomer.
After two rounds of votes, council members agreed to add Guadalupe Rosas -- a mobile home owner and union representative for Workers United -- to the committee for a four-year term, while reappointing Emily Ramos and Nicole Haines-Livesay. In doing so, council members bumped Matt Grunewald, who has served on the RHC since its inception in 2017, to an "alternate" member.
Alternate members only participate in meetings where there is an absence, effectively keeping him out of most meetings.
The high-profile committee plays an important role in setting the ground rules for landlords and tenants under the city's rent control law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA). Though the committee must stick to the framework of the voter-approved law, the first four years have shown there's plenty of room for interpretation.
For some council members, the current roster works fine. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she supported reappointing Grunewald, Ramos and Haines-Livesay and keeping the existing balance on the RHC, suggesting that the committee ought to be level-headed and analytical rather than craft policy around emotion. Councilman Lucas Ramirez took the same approach, despite being at odds with Grunewald's past decisions.
"I don't agree with a lot of committee member Grunewald's votes, and I think that's okay," Ramirez said. "I think he brings an important perspective, and he also is a stakeholder ... as the only sitting member who owns rental property."
Grunewald owns a rental property in San Francisco, granting him experience as a landlord without having financial stakes in his decisions on the RHC. Though Grunewald was often considered the swing vote in major decisions, he was among the majority who voted to oppose extending rent control to mobile homes.
But others were looking for a shake up on the committee. Councilwoman Pat Showalter said the RHC had a "rocky start" because members of the committee were not supportive or outright hostile to rent control. She argued that new and reappointed members should commit to making the law work, and view rent control as a means to keep tenants housed.
"The real reason for the CSFRA is to provide stability in our community, particularly for our more vulnerable members," she said.
Showalter, along with councilwomen Sally Lieber and Alison Hicks, did not support reappointing Grunewald. Hicks said she was particularly concerned by Grunewald's comments regarding the possibility of suspending parts of the rent control law while vacancy rates have spiked during COVID-19. The committee ultimately declined to peel back parts of the law -- and Grunewald opposed even exploring the idea -- but she said it was a cause for concern.
"I just think to entertain that idea ... while we're sheltering in place and while some peoples' rents are still going up is a step too far for me," Hicks said.
Replacing Grunewald as a full-time member will be Rosas, a resident of the Santiago Villa mobile home park. Rosas works as a union representative for Workers United, and describes herself as a long-time community organizer. She also speaks Spanish and is well-connected with the Latino community in Mountain View, which she said is important in engaging residents who are otherwise detached from civic action.
"I believe I can bring a lot of people who don't understand the CSFRA and let them know that this is a live document, that they have the power to learn it, to understand it and to be okay with it," Rosas said.
Rosas and Ramos received the most support at the March 23 meeting -- getting votes from six of the seven council members. But the last appointment and alternate seat came down to a three-way tie between Haines-Livesay, Grunewald and Keating Rhoads, a retired resident who owns a single-family rental in San Francisco.
In a runoff vote, Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei, Councilwoman Lisa Matichak and council members Abe-Koga and Ramirez voted for Grunewald as their first choice, followed by Haines-Livesay and Rhoads. Councilwomen Lieber, Showalter and Hicks chose Grunewald as their last pick, preferring either Haines-Livesay or Rhoads. The vote created a clear divide between council members, and gave Haines-Livesay a slight edge to retain her seat.
Council members will formally appoint the members of the Rental Housing Committee next month.