Thursday, July 17, 2014

City Manager Learns a Tough Lesson: Don’t Mess with Rent Control!

Equity Residential (EQR) owns over half the rent control housing in the city of East Palo Alto (EPA).  Headed by anti-rent control zealot Sam Zell, EQR has enjoyed a cozy relationship with East Palo Alto’s City Manger through which EQR has been able to interfere with the work of the rent program staff.  The situation became so unbearable that EPA’s widely respected Rent Program Administrator Carol Lamont resigned in protest in May of this year.

TT issued a Public Records Act request to uncover what was really going on in EPA.  The documents reveal that the City Manager had effectively given control over the regulatory process to the biggest landlord in East Palo Alto. Responding to complaints from Equity Residential (EQR), the city's largest landlord, the City Manager interfered with enforcement of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). Whether motivated by bias or incompetence, the City Manager allowed her office to be used by EQR as a tool to impose its will and override the efforts of the Rent Stabilization Administrator to enforce the RSO. EQR acknowledged her efforts in an email thanking her for her "continued support."

TT publicized the findings in a press release on July 9.  Media coverage followed.  Gonzalez’s response was to say that TT had “cherry picked from the documents.”  One online commenter said it best: “You can't cherry pick if there are no cherries to pick.”

In a dramatic hearing on July 14, tenants turned out in force to demand change.  Dozens of EPA residents spoke out against City Manager Gonzalez for her mismanagement of rent control, law enforcement, and other matters of concern.  On July 15, the City Council announced that it had hired a search consultant to find a new City Manager.

This is a huge victory for EPA residents and for the preservation of rent control in EPA.  It is also a major setback for EQR’s efforts to undermine rent control. This victory sends a strong message that City leaders who cozy up to major landlords do so at their own risk.

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