Lafayette council tables a possible ban on rent increases
in the city
By Lou Fancher
Property was the central topic at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, with extended discussion about citywide rent control.
In response to residents' complaints about excessive rent increases, the council on May 12 had directed the city attorney to prepare a draft moratorium that would place a temporary ban on rent increases if enacted.
If approved, complexes with more than 30 units would immediately be subject to the rent control ordinance. Smaller complexes, including duplex units would not be included, and state law prohibits rent control of single family homes, condominiums and buildings constructed after 1995.
Ultimately, the council on Tuesday voted unanimously to table the ordinance and conduct a survey of all properties of 25 units or more to determine landlords' position in the absence of rent control.
Several speakers said rising rents are putting residents in jeopardy.
Matthew Siegel said the council was "dismissive of a moratorium," and resident Damilia Loupy lamented, "You are effectively making it impossible for a middle-income family to succeed in Lafayette."
But landlords and some housing experts spoke against the ordinance, claiming it would "open a can of worms," require extensive administration, and shouldn't be enacted without considerable study.
Jill Broadhurst, executive director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, said Lafayette should put more time into examining rent control formulas in other communities. She suggested a surplus in Lafayette's general fund could be used to subsidize rents as an alternative. Building additional rental units, she said, would ease demand and slow the rate of rent increases.
City Manager Steve Falk said that he, Vice Mayor Traci Reilly, Councilman Don Tatzin and other staff met with Sack Properties CEO Kirby Sack about the new rental program for their property on 2nd Street, which had generated the majority of complaints received by the city.
Sack discussed a planned seismic upgrade and deck repair at the property, "best practices" recommended by the California Apartment Association, and a voluntary rent control agreement they planned to offer tenants.
The offer included short-term lease options and a maximum 10 percent increase option on longer leases of 9-12 months. Due to utility charges that the company bills separately from rent, Sack told the city staff that some tenants would experience net increases above 10 percent.
"The overall increases should be far below the 40-70 percent increases that were previously reported to City Council," Falk said.
Falk said that because most or all of the complaints from tenants came from one property (2nd Street) and progress had been made with Sack Properties, the staff would only present the prepared emergency ordinance at the council's request.
"But we do not and will not recommend that you introduce it or adopt it," Falk said. He suggested it be kept on file in the event the council finds tenants' complaints extend beyond one property.
It didn't take long for that to happen.
Siegel said letters to the council sent by a variety of people at different properties proved the problem affected more than tenants at one property, and Sack's 10 percent cap wasn't reasonable.
Deanna Zibello said a neighbor "across the patio" from where she lives on Brook Street had received a 30 percent increase and was forced to move out. The property is not managed by Sack, bolstering Siegel's claim that the increases were pervasive.
Loupy, a 25-year Lafayette resident living at Sack's 2nd Street property, took up the matter of the 10 percent rent cap. With inflation at only 3 percent and incomes not going up anywhere near 10 percent, Loupy said the council's not introducing rent control put many people in jeopardy.
A number of residents reiterated similar points, suggesting diversity in the city's population suffers without rent control and that large corporations like Sack Properties are "ruining Lafayette."
The council tabled the discussion, but did not indicate a timeline for the survey of properties.
In other business, Falk reported that the city's 2014-2015 general fund revenues exceeded expenses by $1.2 million. The staff recommended that a portion of reserves exceeding the general fund target be put into the parking and city offices funds, allocating $450,000 to each. The council asked for additional information and continued the item for public hearing and adoption June 8.
Continuing the night's focus on property, the council directed the city attorney to prepare a one-year option agreement with Branagh Development that would allow the company exclusive purchase rights to the housing portion of a project at 949 Moraga Road. The agreement grants the company exclusive rights to purchase the .75-acre site, should Branagh's 6.5-acre Woodbury II project win city approval.
Branagh is proposing a 72-unit residential structure, including studio and one-bedroom apartments approximately 450-550-square feet. Surface parking would add 47 public parking spaces and a proposed central turn lane added to Moraga Road would reduce the impact to traffic.
Reaching nearly midnight with a closed session still ahead, discussion of an increase to a transactions and use tax, a plastic bag update and other agenda items were postponed to June 8.