Mountain View’s Rental Housing Committee will soon be made up of almost an entirely new roster. Five fresh faces are set to fill three soon-to-expire terms and two vacancies on the city body, and the city council decided Tuesday evening who those five will be.
A pool of nine Mountain View residents applied for the five open seats, which consist of two full, four-year terms that will open after the current members’ seats expire in April; two unexpired seats created by vacancies with terms that end in 2025; and one alternate member.
During the March 7 interviews conducted by the city council, candidates were asked to talk about the biggest issues they see facing the Rental Housing Committee in the future. Nearly all the candidates touched on ratio-utility billing systems, or RUBS, which the committee already established as a top work plan priority for the next couple years.
RUBS is an alternative utility billing method that landlords can implement in rental properties with multiple units. It essentially takes the cost of utilities for the whole building and divides it among tenants based on a formula, which takes into account things like square footage of each unit or number of occupants. But because this system doesn’t track the exact usage for each tenant, it can lead to billing disputes if someone feels they’re being overcharged.
Some cities like San Jose have outright banned RUBS for rent-controlled units. Mountain View’s Rental Housing Committee is currently in the process of collecting stakeholder input through a series of public meetings to figure out what direction the city should go.
These are the five candidates the council selected for the open seats, and where they landed on hot button items like RUBS, as well as other issues.
Robert Cox: full term
A 28-year resident of Mountain View, Robert Cox is no stranger to sitting on city advisory bodies: he previously served on the Environmental Planning Commission for eight years. As a longtime resident, and someone who rented for most of his life, Cox said he has seen first-hand how the changing housing market in Silicon Valley has made it harder for low income residents to stay in the city.
Today, Cox owns a home that he lives in in Mountain View, but does not own or manage any other properties. Each candidate had to disclose this information on their application, because the committee has a rule that it cannot include more than two members who own or manage any rental property or are a real estate agent or developer.
During his interview, Cox identified RUBS as a top issue. He said he believes “(utilities) need to be paid for, but not on the backs of the people who are least able to pay,” and he supported the committee’s current approach of gathering stakeholder input.
Cox added that as the city tries to move toward climate neutrality, requiring green appliances will come with its own set of challenges that the committee will have to face.
“Getting rid of gas and using more electric, how can we phase this into multifamily units in a way that lives up to our principles but doesn’t break the back of the people who have to pay it?” he said.
Cox was one of two applicants to receive unanimous support from council during the first round of voting, so he secured one of the two full, four-year terms that were up for grabs.
Edie Keating: full term
The other four-year term went to Edie Keating, who also snagged a vote from every council member.
Keating said she’s been a renter her whole adult life before buying a condo in Mountain View a year ago. In her application, Keating said she believes rent stabilization is a good policy for any city, and said she’s been present at nearly every RHC meeting since they started in 2017.
Keating also identified RUBS as a top issue.
“We really are not following the CSFRA with our current process of allowing utility billing that’s distributed, but it’s on behalf of the landlord, because it’s really having rent changes every month and only one annual change in rent is allowed,” Keating said.
She said that Mountain View should look to San Jose as an example for how to move forward on issues with RUBS.
Keating also brought up concerns that the city’s rental unit registry rules, which require landlords to register their units with the city, currently have low compliance.
“Once we have more compliance, and the question is how to get that, then we’ll have really interesting data that may bring up other questions that deserve research,” she said.
Kirin Madison: partial term
After Keating and Cox, Mountain View renter Kirin Madison was the next top vote getter, securing support from five of the seven council members. Madison secured one of the two vacant seats that were up for grabs, which means her term will end in 2025.
Having been a renter in places as different as New York, San Francisco, Sacramento, and now Mountain View, Madison said she brings a wide-ranging perspective about the challenges that renters face.
“Issues such as rent stabilization may not be as prominent in Sacramento, where prices are affordable,” Madison wrote in her application. “However, in San Francisco, rent stabilization could be the difference between someone maintaining housing for another year or being forced into the street. As a Mountain View resident, I want to help make the rental process manageable under the CSFRA.”
A law clerk by trade, Madison said she wants to bring that experience into the committee, which was created to implement the city’s rent control law. Like many fellow candidates, she identified RUBS as a top issue.
“As it currently stands, RUBS does not work,” Madison said. “On the landlord side, it constantly brings them in violation of the rent adjustments, and on the tenant side, it actually gives an uncertainty to the amount of money that they would be paying from month to month.”
Madison said the RHC needs to find a middle ground that’s balanced for both sides.
Kevin Ma: partial term
The other vacant seat went to Kevin Ma, a recent renter and now Mountain View condo owner. Like Madison, Ma’s partial term will expire in 2025.
As a member of the Los Altos-Mountain View League of Women Voters’ Housing Committee, Ma said he has closely monitored the activities of the Rental Housing Committee over the years.
Like his fellow candidates, he identified RUBS as a top issue, but also spoke about the push for greener appliances and making sure that tenants know their rights.
When it comes to RUBS, Ma said, “it may involve exploring what other jurisdictions with rent control, like Berkeley, about how they’re doing it. Because as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. But the purpose of the RHC is to make sure there is balance, that no one is getting screwed in the process.”
Alex Brown: alternate
In addition to its five core members, the RHC fills an alternate seat just in case a member vacates their seat early. After a couple tiebreaker rounds, Mountain View resident and mobile home owner Alex Brown came out victorious for the alternate seat.
Addressing RUBS, Brown said “it’s up to the community and the RHC to come to a decision” on the issue, which he said is already being done through the committee’s series of stakeholder meetings.
“I think progress is already being made,” he said.
Brown added that, when it comes to issues of electrification, the city needs to partner with property owners to make it happen.
The five new members will be officially added to the RHC roster after the city council makes their appointment official at a March 28 meeting.