Not All City Council Meetings Are the Same
It occurred to me recently that maybe we need to look at housing differently. Maybe we should look at it like universal healthcare, or public education. Maybe since everyone needs a place to live, we need to find places for everybody. Possibly, if we can agree that housing itself is a right, it may be the way to free up funding for affordable housing because it is a civil rights issue, and people of color are being pushed out of their homes in greater numbers because of skyrocketing rents. That’s what Lorena Melgarejo and Anne Bellows argued in an editorial in the San Mateo Journal this past Sunday. http://www.smdailyjournal.com/opinion/guest_perspectives/renters-rights-are-civil-rights/article_1ee2c38c-b20e-11e7-970a-23fca667d7b0.html
They wrote: “This month, San Mateo County and a handful of nearby local governments officially recognized what many of us already knew: Large rent increases and no-cause evictions are an urgent civil rights issue on the Peninsula. These practices, which thrive in the brutal rental market on the Peninsula, undermine the housing security of many — but they disproportionately harm African-American, Latino, Filipino and Pacific Islander renters. Left unchecked, the displacement crisis we now face will lead to a new era of housing segregation.”
Along with education (Article 26) and healthcare, housing (Article 25) is also included in what’s become the gold standard of human rights documents, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/), and for good reason. Everybody needs a place to live. Of course, the housing crisis is bigger than Santa Cruz because everyone cannot live here, but we have to figure out the numbers and plan, and also secure the funding for affordable housing for people who live here now. We’ve got to continue making demands on Sacramento and Washington, D.C. while working locally on obtaining money for an affordable housing trust fund, taxing speculators, and building a 24/7 emergency homeless shelter. We can do this.
Donna Brazile’s New Book, Hacks
Are you kidding me?! Donna Brazile’s new book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House. It’s the memoire in which she confides to the readers that the Hillary Clinton campaign came to own and operate the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and that in itself might’ve made for an unfair primary against her opponent, Bernie Sanders. Well, I get it, Bernie is a socialist. He believes we all should be taken care of, probably even believes in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see above). I get that. He was not a real big “D” Democrat, so realpolitik demanded that the Dem party elders do everything they could to Stop Bernie. But somehow the party will change and Bernie, like same sex marriage, minimum wage, universal healthcare, equal pay for equal work, and collective bargaining will come out on the right side of history. Just watch (and I hope you participate too!). What all this says is that a whole lot of Democrats, socialists, and non-party people are disappointed in the democratic process and the current Democratic Party and are demanding change. To all of you I say, keep pushing, on the inside and the outside, it’s the only way change actually happens.
Another Bite at Swenson Apple on Pacific
Councilmember Brown and I pulled item #9, Park Pacific Subdivision at 1547 Pacific Avenue, off the city council consent agenda last week. “Subdivision” (map) is the word for $money$. By obtaining a subdivision map, Barry Swenson Builder represented by their Santa Cruz Manager, Jesse Nickel, is now able to avoid providing twelve affordable rental units. The scheme is like this: since they will be “for-sale units,” Swenson-Builder will not have to sell the Magic 12 for at least ten years to comply with the city’s 15% inclusionary law. They will rent them out instead, all 79 condos, at market rates. I checked with the city attorney and planning director before the meeting and they both said the council could demand the 12 inclusionary units be rented out at affordable HUD rents, right now. Brown and I argued for this, but were rebuffed by a council that was more intent on “filling a hole” than obtaining more affordable housing. These units slipped away like so many others into that profit-driven black hole named, Does-Not-Pencil-Out. (If this is sounding like a Molly Ivins story about the Texas state legislature, well you wouldn’t be too far off the mark…do as I say, not as I do.)
Looks Like the City Might be Getting into the (Socialist?) Ambulance Transport Business
A unanimous motion “carried to direct staff to delay selected projects until the Winter/Spring after the October 2018 implementation to ensure appropriate staff capacity to launch the operation of an ambulance transport service, if awarded.” Which is city clerk-speak for putting off the selection of a new banking services agreement (aka, get rid of Wells Fargo) until 2018 and put all of our extra administrative efforts towards securing the ambulance franchise that our fire chief, Jim Frawley is recommending. If the city wins the bidding contest with private contractor, AMR, we will be taking a gigantic step forward in providing additional medical services for the homeless, avoiding unnecessary hospital drop-offs, and creating up to fifty new well-paying city jobs. And I support all of that, just not the part that puts off into the future cutting the cord with Wells. According to Chief Frawley, the city will put out 10-12 ambulances serving the entire county from Scotts Valley to Watsonville. Sound ambitious and risky? The council weighed this, and the initiative will come back for additional direction, but for now I find it incredibly exciting. In an era where cities are selling off services, our city is on the brink of signing up to provide a service that should not be profit-driven, one that stands to benefit the entire community.
CM and Finance Director’s Agenda Item to Balance Budget Flops
Item #18, “FY 2018 Proposed Budget Balancing” was voted down 4-3. With Councilmember Cynthia Mathews calling herself the ” adult in the room,” as she made a motion to accept the staff’s $2 million-plus cuts in city services, the silence on the council dais was deafening as the motion went down for lack of a second. David Terrazas followed with a motion to delay a vote on any budget cuts until the council had a chance to look deeper and decide if it had any choices on what we could cut. It was quickly seconded. At least four councilmembers were not supportive of the choices made by the city manager and finance director. The council was not consulted, nor were city commissioners, neighborhood groups, nonprofit providers, or anyone else outside of the city’s department heads. Bravo Councilmembers Terrazas, Watkins, and Brown in voting to delay this decision until the council is given better information about the overall budget and a set of alternative choices! (Footnote: the final vote was actually 5-2 with the mayor joining the majority after arguing to accept the staff recommendation. A new 5-2?)
Density Bonus Agenda Item
What is a “density bonus?” It is a provision that is granted by a city to a developer, or homeowner, if they agree to include a certain number of affordable housing units in their project. For example, if the developer is willing to include a significant number of affordable units they would be granted an additional story on a given project. A number of state laws were recently passed, including ones concerning the issue of density bonuses. City staff was bringing an ordinance forward to “clean up” existing city ordinances, but the council decided to put it off until January in order to, again, discuss what options are available and to deliberate on what the new state laws might mean for development in Santa Cruz. It was a good decision that will definitely be revisited.
Short Term Rentals (STRs)
Back again for a second, and presumably final reading, was the Short-Term Rental ordinance final adoption and also a “Resolution Directing the City Manager to Submit the Amendments to the California Coastal Commission.” Me and Councilmember Sandy Brown voted no on this ordinance (another 5-2) because it gives away too much of the Santa Cruz housing stock to tourists. Five hundred and fifty permits were approved, 200 for unhosted (people owning two or more units and not living on the premises) and 350 permits for hosted (people who have to live on the premises) STRs. We asked the council to go slower, as we did in approving only 8 (likely 4-5) permits for cannabis dispensaries in the city. STRs are taking rental housing away from residents who need it and who live here now. When you put together the 550 STR permits with the hundreds of market-rate-for- sale units that Silicon Valley looks on as second homes, and combine that with over 9000 UCSC students who are searching for off-campus rentals, then you quickly see the outlines of our working-class and workforce housing crisis. Short term rentals are neither the cause or solution to our housing crisis, but a definite symptom that’s afflicting the Santa Cruz patient looking for housing.
Rent Freeze Emergency Ordinance Called for by Over 100 City Council Attendees
The city council meeting of Oct. 24th was sailing along when, all of a sudden over 100 residents showed up for “oral communication” to demand that their city council acknowledge our current housing crisis and pass an immediate rent freeze to protect tenants from escalating rents in Santa Cruz. This crowd clapped, told heart-rending stories about trying to exist in a difficult rental market, and carried various signs for rent control, ones denouncing greedy landlords and imploring the council to take immediate action on a rent freeze. Finally, the last speaker, Danny Drysdale pleaded with the city council to enact a rent freeze to protect tenants while community groups circulate rent control petitions. I made a motion to add a rent freeze to our agenda because we are in the middle of a housing emergency and there is a clause in our city charter that might allow us to place a previously non-agendized emergency item on our agenda. We are in fact experiencing a housing crisis and I hoped the council would discuss the gravity of this disaster and vote on an immediate rent freeze for all the reasons speakers at the public podium stated. Mayor Chase agreed it is an “emergency and a crisis,” but she wanted to bring it back with a smorgasbord of other housing issues on December 5th, and thus potentially burying the rent freeze issue. “It’s already agendized for December 5th,” according to Mayor Chase. I put forward a motion, seconded by Councilmember Brown to avoid mixing the rent freeze issue with all the other housing issues and put it on the November 14th city council agenda. The audience seemed fine with that and this action would recognize their efforts and acknowledge the housing crisis in Santa Cruz. The motion was defeated, 5-2. Cross your fingers for the December 5th meeting in which maybe, a rent freeze, rent control, no-cause evictions, developer pot-sweeteners like the 15% affordable housing inclusionary loophole that developers have been using to not build affordable housing, all of the affordable housing ideas the mayor has been hearing during her listening tour, and the status of campus housing and the 3000-bed facility UCSC is seeking developer financing to construct. All these could end up on that December 5th agenda. Stay woke and stay tuned, not much of this revolution will be televised!
Bernie Tweet of the Week
“Instead of more tax breaks for Wall Street, we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free by taxing Wall Street speculators.” (Nov. 1)
Photo of the Week
On a cloudy day in Lower Ocean neighborhood about a dozen protesters set up a post in front of the Sleep Tight apartments on Ocean Street this past week to provide support for tenants who were to be evicted.