• OPINION

      A man speaking at a podium addressing the council

      An Alhambra City Coubcil meeting (Photo – Sean McMorris)

      You know it’s crocodile tears when you hear city councilmembers say, “I sympathize, but…”

      By Sean McMorris

      Many city councils across California are holding emergency meetings to implement temporary no-fault eviction moratoriums before The California Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482) takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

      Some local politicians are kowtowing to the real estate industry’s fear-mongering in order to maintain their deep-pocketed campaign support. Nowhere is that more evident than in Alhambra, where big-money has controlled the city council for decades.

      Grovelling to moneyed-interest base

      Alhambra’s emergency City Council meeting on Nov. 5, was called by the Mayor to agendize a temporary (no-fault) eviction moratorium for the next regularly scheduled city council meeting. What should have been a no-brainer vote turned into a tight wire spectacle of feigned sympathy by some city councilmembers and not so disguised grovelling to their moneyed-interest base.

      Alhambra Councilmembers Jeff Maloney and Ross Maza sympathize with tenants being price gouged and unjustly displaced in Alhambra, “but” they believe there are two equal sides to the story and, therefore, want to hear more from the real estate industry and gather more hard-to-come-by personal data before acting.

      When confronted with stories of single moms and entire complexes being evicted, realtor and Councilman Ross Maza responded with this bit of misplaced concern:

      I just want to say that I sympathize with you. Definitely, a 29% increase in your rent is not a good thing. Greed isn’t a good thing. And I don’t like to see these increases. We’re in a tough situation today. I put myself on both sides, in both shoes [renters and landlords]. And as we hear some of these stories, we have to keep in mind that there are definitely two sides. We hear about the elderly being displaced and not being able to pay their rents. We have to keep in mind that there are a number of landlords out there in Alhambra and surrounding cities that are also elderly that rely on some of this rent to live… You know, the rents are grossly under market and so being faced with the situation today, they are in a situation that if they don’t do something about it now it may be too late down the road. So they have been forced into this. So again, there’s two sides to everything. I sympathize with both sides. We have to keep in mind that protecting our residents in Alhambra also means protecting the property rights of some of the residents that are landlords in Alhambra. So, let’s all keep that in mind as well.

      Next up was Councilman Jeff Maloney. Here is what he had to say about tenants and their struggling landlords who are being forced to evict entire complexes before January 1.

      I’m not completely opposed to the idea of some—some thing—that would address the issues raised here today. I do need to say though that we need to get some facts. Our staff needs to get some facts. We’ve heard a lot of really heart-wrenching reports of experiences people have had, and we have a lot of anecdotal evidence. I’d really like to see some actual hard data. And I don’t know how the best way going about doing that is but I’d like to make sure, sort of echoing what Councilmember Maza said, to what extent is this an issue in our city? And assuming that we identify that this is a problem in Alhambra, that we have seen rent increases and evictions spike—I push back on the idea that we should just slap on what Pasadena or L.A. did—we’re not Pasadena, we’re not L.A… So I push back on the idea that we should just take what they did and apply it to Alhambra. What I would like to see is staff go out and do some research and find some hard data and then come back to us with a proposal for something that is tailored to our city that takes into account that we don’t have the level of corporate ownership that Los Angeles does or even Pasadena does… So, so long as it’s based in real data that’s well-tailored to our city and it comes from our staff that has a clear recommendation for how we proceed, I would be open to something.  Absolutely.

      Trying to have it both ways!

      With all due respect Councilmembers Maloney and Maza, what the hell are you talking about?

      This is exactly why people don’t like politicians. Rather than say what they mean and own it, they try to have it both ways by not accomplishing anything at all, then call it a win-win. Sometimes you just have to take a stand, Councilmen Maloney and Maza. Some things are cut and dry. Sometimes you have to say when a thing is bad—even if it is still barely legal. Sometimes you have to side with the vulnerable over the powerful; the have nots over the haves; those harmed over those inflicting the harm.

      Thankfully Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler and Councilwoman Katherine Lee pushed back on Councilmembers Maloney and Maza’s delay and defer approach to the emergency at hand. They impressed upon the two reluctant heroes the urgency of acting as soon as possible to ensure that a maximum number of tenants could utilize the moratorium before it’s too late.

      Councilwoman Lee said that she believed housing is a human right and wanted to implement a moratorium that day if possible (it wasn’t). Mayor Andrade-Stadler countered Maloney’s data-driven delay rhetoric with the reality that it would be impossible to collect the amount of data he sought within the time-frame remaining for an effective moratorium. And how much data would be enough for him, and did it matter given the testimony of tenants they just heard?

      The back and forth drove home the extreme divergence of interests on the Alhambra City Council, but in this instance, only one side is correct.

      Two sides to the story

      There are always two sides to a story, but not always two equal and compelling sides. The divergence between the two sides on this matter is so vast that to imply both sides merit equal sympathy is a fallacy. It is simply a bridge too far to equate those living paycheck to paycheck and beholden to the whims of a landlord with those who are accumulating wealth through property and holding the lives of their tenants in the balance. They do not have equally compelling situations, and the strawman councilmembers who invoke such an argument deserve no deference from the public.

      People’s lives are being ruined, period. But to hear Councilmembers Maloney and Maza, you would think that it’s perfectly fine, even pertinent, for landlords to evict their tenants in order to preempt AB 1482. They would have you believe, with their “Alhambra is not Pasadena or L.A.” rhetoric, that unjustly evicted tenants in Alhambra are different from unjustly evicted tenants in Pasadena and L.A. and, therefore, any moratorium in Alhambra should somehow be devised and modified to account for whether or not City Hall has evidence of one unjustly evicted Alhambra resident or 5,000. What difference does it make? How much is one life worth to you, Councilmembers Maloney and Maza?

      Councilmembers Maloney and Maza would also have you believe that if there was an eviction problem in Alhambra then the City Council and City Hall would know about it. Yet, City Hall does not track evictions, nor does it have adequate resources to provide evicted tenants with aid. What Mutt and Jeff also fail to realize, or choose not to believe, is that many vulnerable tenants do not want to come forward out of fear of landlord retaliation. Those fears are well-founded, especially when representatives from the real estate industry show up like they did at the emergency meeting on Nov. 5 and tell the Alhambra City Council and those in attendance that things will only get worse for tenants under AB 1482 and that landlords will find ways to get around a temporary moratorium.

      What is more, Councilmembers Maloney and Maza seem oblivious to the fact that Alhambra is a majority-minority city of immigrants. Language and cultural barriers are obstacles to coming out of the shadows, even during a crisis like this.

      In short, Maloney and Maza’s statements are utterly devoid of the lived reality of a majority of Alhambrans, 60% of whom are tenants.

      Sowing the seeds of doubt in an emergency

      Councilmembers Maloney and Maza’s joint obfuscation is clearly meant to sow doubt and distract from the fact that a temporary moratorium and AB 1482 will 1) NOT affect the many good landlords who are not price gouging or evicting tenants without just-cause to preempt AB 1482, and 2) DOES NOT prevent landlords from making a profit. State law guarantees landlords a fair return on their properties and AB 1482 allows landlords to increase rents 5% a year plus inflation (typically around 3%). For perspective, how many people are guaranteed a yearly 8% raise in salary? Thus, Maloney and Maza’s “sympathy for both sides” argument is “a dog that don’t hunt,” and it needs to be called what it is—heartless pandering to their moneyed interest campaign donors.

      Money and people

      It is clear why some members of the Alhambra City Council are conflicted about doing the right thing: money and political and personal self-gain. Councilmembers Maloney, Mejia, and Maza are the product of an entrenched establishment that has been groomed and supported by powerful developers, city contractors, and the real estate industry for decades. Indeed, some of those moneyed interests spoke at the Nov. 5 emergency meeting then sat in the audience and stared down the councilmembers they invested in.

      Both Councilmembers Jeff Maloney and David Mejia (Mejia was absent at the Nov. 5 emergency meeting) have made their political beds with the real estate industry. A look at their campaign finance reports shows just how beholden to real estate interests they really are. Both Maloney and Mejia accepted tens of thousands of dollars from developers and the real estate lobby during their 2016 campaigns. Two glaring examples are $2,500 each from the California Real Estate PAC and $5,000 each from now-indicted developer Arman Gabay. (see Maloney’s 460s; Mejia’s 460s)

      Councilman Maza does not yet have a campaign money trail like Maloney and Mejia have because he walked into this council seat without a competitor. Nonetheless, people can make up their own minds about Councilman Maza. He works in the real estate industry, and was backed by all of Alhambra’s establishment politicians and powerbrokers.

      Sympathy is not a substitute for action

      Tenants don’t want your sympathy, Councilmembers Maloney and Maza, they want your support. They want your help so their lives are not upended and destroyed. They don’t need to hear that landlords who price gouge and unjustly kick their tenants to the curb need sympathy too. Tenants need immediate relief, and the Alhambra City Council is in a position to give it to them on Tuesday.

      I will go out on a limb and say that it is likely that some form of a temporary no-fault eviction moratorium will be implemented in Alhambra on Nov. 12. However, the lingering question is whether or not Alhambra’s moneyed interest-backed politicians will attempt to water down any moratorium so much that it becomes meaningless, as a means to appease their big-money campaign donors while foxing a victory—”Look! We did some thing!”

      Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, even if it means publicly shaming some Councilmembers into doing the right thing. Tenants need four city council votes on Nov. 12. It’s time for the Alhambra political establishment to s*** or get off the pot.


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