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Volume 15, Issue 45  | June 6, 2023Subscribe

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Committee agrees to present report on draft emergency tenant protection ordinance to council


A city committee this week agreed to present their report on a possible draft emergency/urgency eviction and tenant protection ordinance to the Laguna Beach City Council.

The Housing and Human Services Committee members voted 9-0 on Wednesday (April 26) to present their report to council, supported by information from a statewide coalition of local tenant organizations, a proposed state Senate bill and examples from other California cities.

HHSC Chair Ketta Brown presented the item to the committee. After residents spoke at the January 25 meeting during public comment, the issue was placed on the committee’s February 22 agenda for further discussion. At that time, the group agreed to add it to their workplan and discuss it in more detail for potential future action at their April meeting.

“We heard you, we feel your pain and we’re sorry we can’t help now,” Brown said. 

Following the February HHSC meeting, she did some online research and wrote up a report detailing what prompted the effort, her findings and the next steps. 

In the report, she noted that the longtime residents spoke regarding loss of their rental units due to “substantial remodel” reasons for which no permits had been pulled, but for which they were given their 60 days.

As protections that were enacted due to COVID-19 are been rolled back, “many landlords have taken the opportunity to raise rents aggressively and use the no-fault ‘substantial remodel’ clause written in the California State statute to evict long-time tenants,” Brown explained in her report. 

A number of cities have either created or amended rental ordinances to address this problem, she noted. A few of the key changes that were ratified by some of the ordinances in other cities included: That prior to noticing tenant, all permits must be pulled and copies provided to tenant; that the renovation take over 60 days to complete; and the current tenant has the right of first refusal to re-occupy the unit after remodel is complete.

The biggest loophole is that landlords say they are planning major repairs in order to evict their tenants, but can take years to actually pull the permits, HHSC Vice Chair Cody Engle explained. 

“There are a number of cities that have closed the loophole,” with local ordinances, he said.

Senate Bill 567, Termination of tenancy: no-fault just causes: gross rental rate increases, authored by State Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), was just submitted to the Senate judiciary committee and covers a lot of what they’ve discussed, Brown noted.

The proposed bill “builds on existing law to better protect California’s low-income renters from unjust evictions and exorbitant rent increases,” according to a statement from several organizations sponsoring the bill.

As written, the bill will close loopholes in the Tenant Protection Act that allow for “rampant abuse of the no-fault just causes for eviction, expand the population of protected tenants, limit allowable rent increases to a more reasonable cap, and provide mechanisms for accountability and enforcement,” the statement reads. 

It’s a great effort, but it will take some time to go through the process and actually be implemented, if it even passes at the state level, Brown pointed out on Wednesday.

“However, although I appreciate that and I think it’s a great way to go, it’s going to take a long time,” she said. “I really feel incredibly strongly that we need to do something yesterday.” 

This draft ordinance is something the city could implement immediately and could act as a stopgap before the state law is implemented, Brown explained. 

“In the meantime, we’re losing housing by the day and something has to be done. We have to take active steps to help our residents or we’re going to lose them,” Brown said.

Committee agrees to present beach houses

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut 

A city committee will present a report to council on a possible draft emergency ordinance aimed at protecting renters in Laguna Beach 

Tanya Yacina, who also spoke at the previous HHSC meetings, commented again on Wednesday. She agreed that it would take too long for SB 567 to go through the process. It likely won’t be voted on until around August and, if it even passes, it won’t go into effect until next year.

She pointed out that it’s already too late for her and another neighbor who spoke at the previous meetings, Kathrin Holt.

“Kathrin and I are already out of town. We’ve lost this battle,” Yacina said, but there are many more residents facing the same issue, several of them attended Wednesday’s meeting either online or in-person. “We’re all having the same problem” 

Resident Melissa Maiden also spoke during public comment and shared her own situation as an example of what’s happening all over town. She and her husband work and live locally with their kids. They are very much a part of the community, she said, but they are being forced out by the landlord.

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They weren’t informed that they were eligible for relocation assistance and she had to fight for it, Maiden said, and what they received is not much help considering how much more they will have to pay at their new home if they want to stay local.

“The rates have just skyrocketed so much it’s hard to survive as a normal hard-working person,” Maiden said. “I can’t even explain the stress that we’re under right now trying to figure out how to continue our lives in this town that we built our life in.” 

They need a stopgap, both Yacina and Holt emphasized, and the proposed city ordinance would make a difference for many residents facing eviction. 

“There’s an amazing amount of people that are getting kicked out right now,” Holt said.

Holt suggested making the ordinance retroactive so it could help people currently in that situation. She also recommended that the relocation assistance amount should reflect the local area and should be greater for disabled and elderly citizens, both ideas that have been included in ordinances elsewhere. Ultimately, the committee agreed to incorporate both suggestions.

Current state law also allows property owners to “play musical chairs” with the reasoning, Yacina said, noting that her landlord switched the reason for eviction from substantial remodel to owner move in. She suggested they add certain stipulations for the owner move-in justification, like requiring moving into the unit within a few months and/or staying at the location for a certain number of years.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask people to do that, I don’t think, unless they’re not doing it for the right reasons,” Yacina said. 

Other cities have also stated in the ordinance that if there is a comparable unit available for the landlord or property owner to move into, they can’t kick out another tenant, she pointed out.

A number of other California cities have adopted similar ordinances, both Yacina and Holt noted, so they can be used as models for what to develop for Laguna Beach.

Holt mentioned that Tenants Together has made a list of cities with rent protection.

According to the group’s website, Tenants Together is a “statewide coalition of local tenant organizations dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of California tenants to safe, decent and affordable housing.” 

Brown said she will research the Tenants Together and include information from the coalition in the report.

Committee member Joe Hanauer said he’s in favor of the overall spirit of the ordinance and effort, but cautioned the committee on forwarding the proposal without fully analyzing potential opposition. They need to present it to council in a responsible way, he added.

“What’s their (the opposition’s) position going to be if this goes through?” he asked. “I think it’d be good for this committee to know what it’s opening the council up to.”

It is useful to consider the opposition’s argument, so they can understand how to respond, Engle said.

Councilmember Alex Rounaghi, the committee’s council liaison, agreed that, as an advisory body, the HHSC should provide a comprehensive recommendation. Before presenting it to council, he suggested they analyze all the various aspects of a proposed ordinance, including how it will be implemented, potential opposition, enforcement, administrative cost and examples from other jurisdictions. 

There is a compelling reason behind the effort, he noted, but they should do their due diligence first.

That’s a big job and a lot of work, Engle responded, they’d like some indication of interest from council before delving into all of that. 

Committee member Jacquie Schaefgen reiterated the urgency of the issue. 

“Obviously this is an emergency situation,” she said. “We don’t have six months to analyze if the City Council is either going to agree that there should be a simple emergency ordinance or not.” 

They can present it and council can direct staff to either pursue it or not, Schaefgen concluded. She agreed they can provide some examples from other cities as well as data from Laguna Beach and council can weigh the information and decide what to do.

This is for multi-unit buildings, Schaefgen pointed out. This isn’t about making it so landlords can’t make money on their properties, there is still plenty of room for that, but it’s about protecting the rights of Laguna Beach residents who rent, particularly regarding affordable housing.

“Clearly, what we’re talking about is a sense of urgency for the most vulnerable, where we, again, have not added any housing,” in recent years, she said. 

Housing Program Coordinator Jennifer Savage noted that the committee may not be able to request the council agendize a discussion on the proposed ordinance because it’s not specifically in the HHSC current workplan.

Although Engle argued that the HHSC is specifically tasked to assess and identify housing opportunities and needs, including providing input and recommending policies regarding affordable housing, as identified in the housing element of the city’s general plan. 

The current workplan, which was approved by council, specifically directs HHSC to “recommend policies to promote affordable housing” as part of a goal for the committee (the goals also directs them to fulfill the Regional Housing Needs Allocation mandates).

It’s a broad mandate, Engle said, and a tenant protection ordinance would be in their purview under that goal.

“It clearly empowers us to present this to the City Council,” Engle said. “We are charged to recommend housing policies and this is one of those.”

“It also ties in with the real very real need for affordable housing,” Holt noted, which is included in the committee’s workplan as well as in the housing element of the city’s General Plan. 

The current situation is actually causing affordable housing to be lost in Laguna Beach, Holt noted, the opposite of the direction described in both the workplan and city General Plan.

Earlier in Wednesday’s meeting, the committee approved a draft workplan for 2023-24, which specifically included an item to “recommend housing policies to promote an increase in both affordable housing and housing that may be attainable to households earning around the area median income.” 

Although the new workplan has not yet been approved by the council, Savage pointed out.

Engle also suggested they modify the workplan to have a “catch-all” to deal with urgent housing matters that the public brings to the attention of the committee.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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