Rent protection discussions making waves in Pacifica

Pacifica’s City Council is scheduled in January to revisit the question of whether to enact stronger tenant protections.

If a special study session earlier this month is any indication, the conversation could be contentious.

The study session was convened to examine whether city staff should study the possibility of implementing rent stabilization. But some in the community say they felt blindsided by the surprise inclusion on the agenda of a landlord-backed alternative.

Daniel Saver, a housing attorney for Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, had previously predicted the waves of mass evictions, currently affecting cities like San Mateo and Redwood City, would soon move north and create crises in towns like Pacifica and Daly City.

Tenant advocates say the waves are already breaking on Pacifica’s shores. The owners of the town’s Pacific Skies Estates mobile home park recently made headlines by sending eviction notices to numerous residents, some of them low-income seniors.

Saver said his organization has begun handling another case in Pacifica, involving a building in Sharp Park whose tenants received 60-day eviction notices the day before Thanksgiving. Two of the units have already been converted to short-term vacation rentals, Saver said, and tenants believe the landlord plans to convert the remaining units to Airbnb inventory.

The alternative to rent stabilization that was added to the session agenda, upsetting some attendees, was the so-called Healdsburg model. Enacted by the Healdsburg City Council in Sonoma County earlier this year, the nonbinding ordinance is a set of guidelines the city asked landlords to voluntarily follow. Those include limiting rent increases to 10 percent per year, and notifying tenants at least 90 days prior to rent increases.

Saver blasted the Healdsburg model, saying it was “the darling of the landlords” because it places no new legal requirements upon them.

“The Healdsburg model is one of the most useless, waste-of-time things that’s out there,” Saver claimed, “It doesn’t actually limit their ability to rent-gouge people.”

Those who claim the addition of the Healdsburg model was an attempt to derail the rent stabilization discussion are mistaken, according to Pacifica City Manager Lorie Tinfow. She said four council members had previously expressed concerns about adopting rent stabilization, and staff made a good-faith effort to address the council’s desire to learn about possible alternatives.

Pacifica Mayor Sue Digre, an outspoken advocate of stronger tenant protections, agreed staff had behaved appropriately and said including new information about the Healdsburg model was nothing out of the ordinary.

Tinfow took a straw poll during the session, asking the council members how they might vote on the question of devoting city resources to further study of rent stabilization.

Only four members were present, and the informal vote was split, with Digre and Councilman John Keener supporting rent stabilization, and Mayor Pro Tem Mike O’Neill and Councilwoman Karen Ervin opposing it.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Nihart was out of town during the session, and is expected to break a similar tie if the matter is voted on during a future council meeting.

While Nihart stuck to her longstanding policy of not revealing which side she might support prior to an actual vote, the councilwoman noted the Peninsula’s housing crisis has far-reaching implications.

“If we don’t address this problem, I don’t know if our way of life is sustainable,” Nihart said.

Digre expressed frustration with the slow pace of the council’s progress toward any possible solutions.

“Nothing we’re doing this minute is helping those who need help right now,” Digre said. “As we speak, people are being evicted. Between now and the next meeting, how many more are going to be served with eviction notices?”

Keener and Ervin could not be reached for comment.

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