Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 6, 2017

“Way off the rails”

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:06 am

I knew that Tuesday’s City Council meeting would be pretty exciting but since I have kids and stuff I can’t stay up to watch these meetings live otherwise I wouldn’t be conscious the next morning.  I did wake up to this tweet in my notifications tab:

Which naturally prompted this response:

Turns out I missed a doozy of a meeting, but the most drama filled moments were definitely at the end.  Let me set the scene for you.  After many hours of public comment and Council discussion both Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Malia Vella were poised — with a willing third vote — to eliminate no cause evictions in Alameda. (More on the details of this some other time.)

Remember Jim Oddie has always, because of his connections to the Rob Bonta and other progressive/Democratic organizations, been perceived as an ally to progressive causes and to the plight of renters in Alameda in general.  And he’s a renter himself.  I could point out the myriad of ways that Jim Oddie is not that progressive but why poke the hornet’s nest any more.  Anyway, a leader of the Renters Coalition group shot off an email directly to Jim Oddie’s city email address at that very moment and apparently Jim Oddie’s super thin skin wore completely away at that point leaving him triggered and raw to the point where he decided to read the email, out loud, and complain about blackmailing and ethics.

Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft attempted to point out that the reading of an email (not the out loud reading, the reading of it in the mailbox) just received may not be kosher under the Sunshine Ordinance.  Trish Spencer disagreed because if one reference previously received emails one can “see” new emails.  For all of those of us with email accounts we all know that excuse is pretty lame since while you can “see” new emails in your box you may be able to read a snippet of it that shows up in the preview but you have to actively open said email to read it.  Unless you lack impulse control you can ignore new email sent during a City Council meeting until said City Council meeting has been concluded.

Frank Matarrese also concurred that the reading of the email didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the electronic communications rule in the Sunshine Ordinance and lodged a complaint.  As I type this I realize that someone should lodge an official complaint with the Open Government Commission about this, perhaps the person who had his email read aloud.  It sounded like the City Attorney agreed with this assessment.  Malia Vella, sensing a huge breakdown, moved to continue the meeting to another time, which — honestly — Jim Oddie should have been thanking her for in order to save him from digging an even bigger hole instead he was the sole vote to continue going that night/morning.

Here’s the Sunshine Ordinance code referenced here:

In order to insure that all communications to Policy Board members presented in a public meeting are shared with the public, Policy Board members are prohibited from communicating electronically with others during public meetings about matters that pertain to the business thereof.”

Both Trish Spencer and Jim Oddie seem to be relying on “communicating electronically” requiring an active response from the City Councilmember.  I think the spirit of the law would say that even reading new communications during the meeting wouldn’t be okay either.   “Communicate” even by the most basic dictionary standard does not require actively responding.

From the great Merriam-Webster:

a : to convey knowledge of or information about : make known communicate a story She communicated her ideas to the group.
b : to reveal by clear signs His fear communicated itself to his friends. He communicated his dissatisfaction to the staff.

It will be interesting to see what political stances post meltdown Jim Oddie will take after this.  Perhaps he’ll attempt to pull a Tony Daysog and hitch his wagon to Trish Spencer and tack really really conservatively

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20 Comments »

  1. I seldom have much nice to say about Oddie, and maybe his actions weren’t entirely according to Hoyle, but I can understand where he’s coming from. He’s human and his response is human. Most of us would be annoyed & offended if in his shoes.

    And he has a logical point as well. The public did just vote overwhelmingly for L1 and against the ARC initiative. It is unseemly for them to keep hammering like this and council does risk flouting the will of a supermajority by proceeding down this path.

    Comment by dave — April 6, 2017 @ 7:05 am

  2. Agree on the point about Oddie being a real live human. It was late, these people volunteer their time and work full time on top of it. These issues are difficult in the face of our huge housing shortage. The more that we see each other as fellow humans the better we will be able to relate to each other.

    Comment by Angela — April 6, 2017 @ 7:41 am

    • Does that include ” slumlords? Greedy landlords ” etc..?

      I would like to point out that the dirty , smelly , lazy hipsters are the ones who want other peoples portions . They work less and want more. They claim to be ” artists” LMFAO!

      Comment by Master Blaster — April 6, 2017 @ 9:57 pm

  3. Rashomon

    Comment by Akira — April 6, 2017 @ 7:41 am

  4. Apologies in advance to the TLR;dnr crowd.

    I watched the video of Jim Oddie’s remarks and can hardly blame him for reacting the way he did. He was called a “coward” by a leader of the Alameda Renters Coalition because he chose not to override Alameda voters. (A bit of advice to the ARC: consider ditching the tactic of demonizing those who do not agree with you on every point). ARC wanted Jim Oddie use his vote on the Council to scrap a provision of the City’s Rent Ordinance, which was approved by voters 55-45%, impose one of the main provisions (“just cause”) of the ARC’s Measure M1 that voters rejected overwhelmingly – 66-33%. It was not cowardly not to comply with that request.

    Everyone understands the Rent Ordinance is just that, an ordinance that can be modified by the City Council, and that council members are elected to deal with City policy, but I think most voters would hope that right after an election in which this very policy question was put to them that members of the Council would have a compelling reason to reject the voters’ choice.

    Some background on that “just cause” provision now. In the lead up to the enactment of the City’s Rent Ordinance, there was much debate about whether and to what extent property owners could end a tenancy by giving proper notice. That had been the law in Alameda up to that point and is the law in most places in California. However, because the Rent Ordinance imposes a form of rent control for existing tenants there was fear that landlords would attempt to evade those limitations on rent increases by giving notice to existing tenants and be free to raise the rent for the subsequent tenant. After much debate about this issue in the lead up to the passage of the Rent Ordinance, the Council decided that it would permit a very limited number of evictions through giving of notice (a number that is being further reduced by the Council in the current round of revisions). Out of about 14,000+ rental units in the City, there were only about 24 of these so called “no cause” evictions.

    More importantly – and perhaps an explanation for the very low numbers – in the Rent Ordinance passed in March 2016, the City Council removed any economic incentive for landlords to avoid rent controls through use of “no cause” evictions. First, the Ordinance limits the rent charged to any subsequent tenant to 5% more than the existing tenant (in most cases, an increase that would also be permitted as to the existing tenant). Second, the Ordinance requires that a tenant given such a notice be given relocation fees by the landlord or some combination of relocation fees and additional time in the unit, at the election of the tenant. In other words, a landlord’s use of a “no cause” eviction under the new Ordinance is a money loser in terms of rents. The Alameda Renters’ Coalition recent letter to the City Council nearly concedes as much, “Furthermore, landlords cannot use no-cause evictions for financial gain because of the required relocation fees and the 5% rent increase for new tenants”.

    In it’s March 2017 letter to the City Council, the ARC repeated the argument that it made during the passage of the Rent Ordinance and in the lead up to the November election that “Landlords do not need no cause evictions when California state law already provides for removal of “bad actor” tenants for just cause”. But taking away the very limited right of a landlord to give notice preserved by the Ordinance creates its own problems. First, going to court to evict a “bad actor” tenant is a very costly and time consuming proposition and usually involves lawyers, convincing witnesses to appear in court. To an extent, involvement with courts may be considered a cost of doing business, but taking away entirely a landlord’s already very limited ability (under the Ordinance) to give notice to a “bad actor” tenant (with relocation benefits), and instead requiring the landlord to go through with proving a nuisance or breach of lease terms in court, generally increases those costs dramatically. And the City is not offering to assist landlords with those costs imposed by its current limitations on “no cause” evictions, nor would it be willing to assist with the costs of going to court to prove that the conduct “bad actor” tenant constitutes a nuisance. Those costs can be crushing to a small landlord. They make it not only difficult for the landlord to separate from a “bad actor” tenant, but also more difficult and costly for the landlord to take action when the “bad actor” tenant creates problems for other tenants (and perhaps less likely that the landlord will take action).

    These issues were closely debated in the lead up to the passage of the Ordinance which sought to eliminate the economic incentives to evict tenants, but to preserve a limited but legitimate use of the longstanding means of termination through notice. They were also debated in the lead up to the overwhelming defeat of M1 which sought to eliminate altogether even the limited right to give notice under the Ordinance with relocation fees and with a cap on subsequent rent increases.

    So, in light of (a) the overwhelming rejection only months ago at the polls of what the ARC is again seeking in terms of “just cause”, (b) the good reasons for the very limited “no cause” provisions in the Ordinance, and (c) the very low number of “no cause” evictions (with relocation fees and caps on subsequent rents) that have occurred under the Ordinance Jim Oddie was correct to ask for evidence that there is a need to make a change in the ordinance at this time. (In other words, he was indicating a willingness to modify the Ordinance in this respect if there was a real showing that it was required despite the election results). Ms. Ezzy Ashcraft, who introduced the motion to draft language eliminating the “no cause” provisions ratified by voters in L1 and replacing them with, in essence, the voter-rejected M1 provisions, responded to the statistics cited by Mr. Oddie by saying [paraphrasing] “well, we don’t know what we don’t know”. But that is not evidence nor a compelling reason for overturning the voters’ choice nor does it defeat the good reasons discussed by the previous Council for preserving a very limited right to give notice.

    The ARC’s letter to Council suggests that because of the economic disincentives imposed by the Council in the Ordinance on the use of “no cause” evictions, the only reason they would be used is for the ALREADY ILLEGAL purposes of discrimination or retaliation. So, if a “no cause” eviction is used for such a purpose, (1) such a purpose would invalidate the notice and void the attempted eviction and (2) any landlord stupid and unethical enough to use an eviction for that purpose is buying his or herself a well-deserved lawsuit, the end result of which could be the loss of the property.

    Finally, if Mr. Oddie’s reading of the “coward” email out load, in public, during the meeting violated the Sunshine Ordinance, I can only hope that all Sunshine Ordinance violations occur in precisely the same way. It seemed he was shining the light on it very brightly.

    Comment by MP — April 6, 2017 @ 7:48 am

    • Correction paragraph 3: according to the city report it was 32 not 24.

      Comment by MP — April 6, 2017 @ 11:13 am

  5. The term “no cause” is rather misleading. An owner’s desire to end a business relationship is a cause and a just one. Bosses are free to fire, workers are free to quit, tenants are free to leave anytime — all for any cause or reason. But landlords don’t have that right unless they pay thousands of dollars in ransom to their tenants.

    What ARC et al are pursuing is control of others’ property, the rights of ownership to something they do not own. Little wonder that rental units are being taken off the market. Whatever benefits current renters may gain will come at the cost of screwing both future renters and property owners.

    Comment by dave — April 6, 2017 @ 7:55 am

    • take away the very limited (albeit costly with the relocation fees) escape hatch left in the Ordinance, and instead tell (particularly the small) landlords that to deal with a potential nuisance tenant they must prepare a case for trial, the idea of renting out that duplex or second unit becomes a lot less attractive ( without the ability to charge a commensurately higher rent, at a minimum).

      Comment by MP — April 6, 2017 @ 8:20 am

  6. Very indirectly related to #1 and #2 above, during the election I thought Hillary was being smart by choosing to react calmly to Trump and not breaching decorum, or however you want to say it, during their “debates”. Maybe a more normal human reaction, like Jim Oddie’s, would have won her some votes. That’s hindsight and, on top of all else, she had to deal with what she perceived (correctly or incorrectly) to be voter expectations (right or wrong) of a female candidate.

    Comment by MP — April 6, 2017 @ 8:09 am

  7. I’ll point out that during Marie Gilmore’s mayoral administration there were countless people who came up, pointed in the faces of select members of City Council and called them all sorts of invectives. At no time did they respond with the same sort of thin-skinned-ness displayed by Jim Oddie, who didn’t even have someone pointing in his face and threatening to mobilize against him, just an email sitting in his email box that he shouldn’t have opened during that meeting.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 6, 2017 @ 8:10 am

    • If it was a politician you liked or a point you agreed with, you wouldn’t say a word about “thin-skinned-ness” or points of order. And ask yourself, might you respond in a similar way under similar exhausted circumstances? It may not have been proper but it was understandable.

      Comment by dave — April 6, 2017 @ 8:18 am

      • I actually agree with most — not all — of Jim Oddie’s policy positions and have given him props for the times I have agreed with his decisions.

        Comment by Lauren Do — April 6, 2017 @ 8:52 am

  8. Seems to me the person who sent the email took the cowardly route by sending a crappy email at midnight. He spoke at the meeting. He had his say, gave his two cents. Then he sat and waited until after midnight to spring a nasty email. Seems shady to me. Not that I condone or agree with what Oddie did or how he reacted. But the tactics used by ARC are very Trump-esque.

    And on a side note, Frank and Marilyn we’re right about the reading of emails being a violation of the Sunshine Ordinance. The fact Trish doesn’t think so speaks volumes on her lack of transparency.

    Comment by Eyeroll — April 6, 2017 @ 8:35 am

    • Without making a claim that this was or was not a violation of the Sunshine Ordinance, one can surely understand why you might want to have a rule that precludes even the reading of emails pertaining to an agenda item while the item is under consideration. (However, I’m a little unclear about how the reading an email precisely equates to “convey[ing]” information [the quoted Merriam definition of “communicate”]; it is the sender who is conveying, it is the reader who is taking it in. Perhaps that is hairsplitting that risks defeating the purpose of the Ordinance, but it would be pretty easy to just be clear about it and say no sending or receiving)). A ban on reading emails might be justified by the fear that the member is being improperly coached or influenced on an issue while it is pending. That would include the risk of members being influenced (without disclosure) to switch votes or vote a certain way on matters where they have no predetermined preference (and perhaps, most perilously, on an issue or detail where the member has not even read the staff report or background materials but might vote as requested in an electronic communication). And, as a practical matter, if you are going to have such a rule, it would be very difficult to make distinctions between reading emails that risk influencing a member and those that don’t, so a rule banning reading all of them is much easier to apply and follow. In that sense, an across the board “no peeking” rule is justifiable (a simpler but more draconian rule would be to confiscate devices altogether, throwing out not only the bathwater but also emergency calls, family emails, unrelated emails, solitaire, Netflix, MLB.com, etc.) — even if the result is to preclude reading emails that do not influence or (an extreme example) that one purely-motivated email raising a new point that, if brought by the recipient to the Council’s attention in time and in the open, results in the Council avoiding a bad, irrevocable decision. The email in question here does not fall within that last example, but it also wasn’t an email that risked influencing, without disclosure, Mr. Oddie’s vote (as he had already cast it, hence the insulting email); and the immediate, albeit salty disclosure of the email’s contents exposed it to plenty of real-time sunshine. Assuming that is a violation, it would be wonderful if the only violations of the Sunshine Ordinance occurred in precisely that same manner (ok, without the cussing also).

      Comment by MP — April 6, 2017 @ 11:04 am

  9. I’ll say it again re. the Entire council: “I am afraid of them and for them.” Alameda is on the schnide folks. Tick, tock…

    Comment by Il Cane di Ferro — April 6, 2017 @ 9:03 am

  10. Not informed enough to know if the details in #4 are right or not but I think I am smart enough to appreciate thoughtful, non spastic pieces like #4. So, to #4, thank you for that right up.

    Comment by anonymous — April 6, 2017 @ 9:41 am

  11. just my opinion, council members should not be sending or receiving electronic communications during council meetings. PERIOD.

    Comment by JohnP.trumpisnotmypresident. — April 6, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

  12. I was watching the meeting at home when I saw Jim Oddie receive and react to the email he received from the ARC . His reaction was authentic and passionate. It took great political courage and leadership to explain that taking such a vote to
    over-turn the election results in the mid-night hours with only 7 people left in the audience was inappropriate.

    Rightfully so, he reminded everyone that Just Cause was the main issue at heart between L1 and M1, and M1 lost overwhelmingly.

    If the shoes were reversed and M1 had won, and the City Council was working in the mid night hours just four months after the election to over-turn the voter approved ordinance, ARC would be unhinged.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 6, 2017 @ 10:50 pm

    • Just cause was like the 4th biggest issue between M1 & L1.
      1) No cap vs. too low a cap. 2) charter amendment Ca ordinance? 3) which one is the “real rent control?” 4) just cause.

      Comment by BMac — April 7, 2017 @ 7:58 am

  13. I realize that there is a housing crisis – I get it, but let’s not forget that the housing crisis is a “regional crisis”. As a landlord, sitting in the audience on Tuesday night listening to the renter’s comments, the city council comments, etc. it felt like a regional housing crisis was being placed on the backs of 15,000 property owners to solve – many of whom are senior citizens.

    It’s not fair that 15,000 property owners are being asked to shoulder this burden alone. It should be a citywide shared cost.

    Let us not forget the problem(s) we are trying to solve:

    1. Provide more affordable housing
    2. Provide help to seniors and working families who are in crisis and in need of housing assistance

    Right now, there is a long list of seniors on the senior housing authority wait list but there is not enough senior housing to go around; renters who are unemployed struggling to pay their rent, renters who are suffering from a health crisis and don’t earn enough money to pay both rent and their health bills, and working families struggling to make ends meet.

    Instead of putting this burden on 15,000 property owners to solve (again, many of whom are senior citizens), why not create a Renter’s Trust Fund that will give money DIRECT to the those who are in need? A Renter’s Trust fund could be funded from the following revenue sources:

    1. There is a housing boom, so increase the real estate property transfer tax from $12 to $13 per thousand, and use the increase to fund the Renter’s Trust Fund.
    2. There is an uptick in ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Unit) permits. This is a “new” revenue source for the city. It’s a housing project, so direct these funds to the Renter’s Trust Fund.
    3. Instead of charging the proposed $100 program fee – charge $150, and direct $50 to the Renter’s Trust Fund.

    With just these three sources of funds, we are talking about MILLIONS of dollars that could be directed to help those in need. And these three revenue sources could be generated almost immediately if the city council was willing to act. This would also give the RRAC a new tool to use to help those who need assistance.

    Today’s housing crisis should be met with new ideas – new revenue sources, and ideas that come from outside of the box. We can’t keep doing what we’ve done in the past and expect that things are going to change.

    I say, let’s stop pitting the housing providers and tenants against each other and try something new like creating and funding a Renter’s Trust Fund.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 6, 2017 @ 11:58 pm


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