Residential Rent Review Panel unable to protect a Concord resident

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Concord’s Residential Rent Review Panel (RRRP).

The RRRP is a three-person committee, created by Concord City Council in mid-2017, whose mandate is to issue non-binding recommendations for disputed rent increases.

Why non-binding? Because a non-binding decision ensures that in the negotiation between tenant and landlord, the landlord will hold most or all of the power. In cities where rent stabilization is becoming a political possibility, a non-binding mediation board is generally endorsed as a fallback measure by organizations which advocate the interests of landlords, such as the California Apartment Owners’ Association.

The case before the RRRP at this meeting was a planned increase of 48%, from $1250 to $1850, at an apartment on Robin Lane.

What “non-binding” means is that when the board arrives at a decision about how much the rent should be raised, the landlord is free to reject the decision. And in this case, that is exactly what happened.

There was extensive discussion of specific maintenance and repair issues in the unit. The landlord’s representative cited the cost of improvements which had been done or were planned, implying that these were a justification for the rent increase.

She also cited the high rents of other units in the vicinity, as evidence that the planned new rent was a current market price.

Here is my audio recording of the meeting, made in exercise of the public’s rights under the Brown Act: http://kenjiforconcord.com/RRRP%202018-10-01%204PM.mp3.

Below is the comment I made, and the response.

———————————-

Kenji: My name is Kenji Yamada. I’m a Concord resident. There’s been discussion of maintenance and renovation details so far, which I take – and I wonder if I’m correct in taking the implication to be that these are the *reason* for the rent increase. So I’d like to know whether the landlord is representing that this $600 increase is only to maintain the current profit margin on the cost of repairs and maintenance done, or planned to be done, plus inflation – let’s say, over the term of tenancy – to maintain a certain level of profit. Or, is the increase more than that, those costs and inflation. And if so, how much more? That’s my question.

Sandeep Singh, RRRP Chair: Well, this is the public comment period. You can make a comment. I don’t think you can pose questions.

Kenji: In City Council meetings it’s normal for the public to pose questions during comment time.

Chair: Well, I – Just this once I’ll allow her [landlord’s representative] to answer if –

Linda Dunn, attorney representing the landlord: I think we’re good with the comment that you have [inaudible] the comment period.

Chair: So, Mr. Yamada, it appears that the question is more of a rhetorical one, right, whether –

Kenji: No, sir, it’s trying to find out an answer to a question. It’s not rhetorical.

Chair: Well, I think she has declined. She is the attorney, and she has declined to answer the question.

Kenji: Okay. That’s on record. Thank you.

———————————-

After public comment, the Chair of the RRRB proposed that the rent be increased from $1250 to $1525 (+22%), rather than the $1850 (+48%) which the landlord had been planning. The other two board members also accepted this amount, so the vote was unanimous. The tenant agreed to accept and pay $1525.

But the attorney representing the landlord responded that “at this time [the decision] is rejected.” This was an available option, since the RRRB’s decisions are non-binding.

She added that “On receiving the written review from you guys, my client will take it into consideration.”

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Upcoming Monument candidates’ forum by CCRG and partners

Monument Candidates Forum Invitation flyer - EnglishI’ll be participating in a forum with the other candidate for Concord City Council District 3 on October 10, 6:30-8:30pm, at the First Presbyterian Church, 1965 Colfax St. The forum is being put on by the Central County Regional Group, a group of Monument resident community volunteers, as well as First 5 Contra Costa, Monument Impact, the Central Labor Council of Contra Costa County, and the Raise the Roof Coalition.

Here is their description of the event (Facebook link):

Join the conversation and learn about your candidates for City Council!
Ask how they plan to make Concord a better place for you and your community.
Light dinner served at 6:00 pm

I hope to see you there, and look forward to answering your questions!

City governance with districts

I attended the City Council workshop this morning/afternoon on developing norms of governance for the transition from an at-large Council (each elected by the whole city) to districts.

Council chose to frame the discussion around the premise that Councilmembers (both present and future) should strive to minimize the role of districts in governance and their own conduct. They used a certain word frequently throughout the workshop: “parochialism”.

I understand parochialism to mean an *exclusive* focus on the needs of a particular place, disregarding all others. But the current Councilmembers seemed to agree in including under that pejorative label even the notion of a *particular* (but not exclusive) focus on the needs of the district which elected a given Councilmember. In other words, they took it as given that a Councilmember ought not to regard the residents of their district as their primary constituents, above residents in the rest of the city.

I disagree with this view. I think the relationship between districts, and by extension between the representatives of districts, should be like the relationship between individuals in a community. Each has their own particular experiences, needs, and points of view, and they do and should advocate for themselves (or for the district they represent). But they should also show significant, although limited, willingness to make sacrifices for the whole.

Ignoring the needs of the whole city, or of other districts, does not fit with this. But neither does ignoring the distinction between districts and behaving as if the Council were still at-large. A Councilmember for a district should be a negotiator and advocate for their district – but a fair-minded one, not an absolutist.

Incidentally, the view of at least some if not all of the current Councilmembers regarding BART governance fits their own usage of “parochialism”. They have indicated a strong belief that the BART Directors for the two BART districts in Concord (Joel Keller and Debora Allen) should not be thinking primarily of the entire BART system or the whole Bay Area, but rather of our particular needs in suburban/semi-urban Contra Costa.

Meetup with residents in Cambridge Park – August 8, 2018

I met yesterday with Monument Community residents at Cambridge Park. Topics brought up included extreme rent increases, living conditions, evictions for no cause or invalid causes, and the gangs which gather in certain spots in the neighborhood. I shared some important facts about this year’s City elections, for example that the Council seat for the new District 3 could be decided by very few votes.

We are going to have more meetups like this. The next one we’ve planned is on August 18 (Saturday), at 8:30 am, in Cambridge Park. The conversation will be mainly in Spanish.

Keep Families Together rally – Todos Santos, July 14, 2018

I took part in a rally at Todos Santos last Thursday during Music & Market to protest the taking of children from their parents by US border authorities. As we marched through the plaza, there were a lot of thumbs up and supportive comments from families enjoying the music. In this community we know the importance of strong, intact families – and that includes all families. A rally doesn’t solve the problem, but it is an important way to declare our values as a community.
 
Thanks to Rev Neal Anderson of Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church for organizing.
 
Photos by Michael Kerr.

Ask me questions at a meeting of Our Revolution Contra Costa

I’m grateful to have received the endorsement of Our Revolution Contra Costa, the local chapter of a national organization aimed at supporting candidates who stand for progressive values. I’ll be at their event this coming Sunday at Grant Street Pub & Pizzeria at 4pm, along with US Senate candidate Alison Hartson, to explain what I stand for, to answer questions, and hopefully to earn your support as a Concord resident.

Our Revolution Contra Costa candidate meet and greet flyer