The Candidates’ Answers [UPDATED]

At our October 1st candidates’ forum (which you can read more about here), on top of asking the candidates 5 of our own prepared questions and 1 question selected from a stack of audience submissions, we pulled out a final audience question to be answered by the candidates electronically. Here is that question (thank you to the question asker, Luis A.!):

What strong measures will you propose for rent control [and] to avoid people [being] evicted unjustifiably?

—Luis A.

Rick Bonilla’s Response:

As I mentioned while making responses at the forum, politics is the art of the possible. We all saw what happened to measure Q last year. We also saw what happened with the City Council last year. I believe the best response to create and maintain affordability while protecting renters rights will be to build more affordable housing. Renters can have reasonable lease terms where the rents are not driven by profit, creating stability. We need to take advantage of building smartly in areas where density can be accommodated near transit. The buildings must be taller, denser and built with public money from the city’s affordable housing fund. This fund is now being contributed to by developers with approved projects who are paying per the new commercial impact linkage fee. We can, as we have in the past, purchase existing buildings, improve them and lease below market rate. We need to do whatever possible to put section 8 vouchers back into play, this is an important way for low income folks to secure a unit. Also I think we should look at getting owners to issue leases of at least 1 year with rare exceptions for tenants who are only staying for a short time. I want to take a look at modernizing just cause eviction and relocation assistance programs. But, all of that said, I think the best thing we can do is build more affordable, mixed use TOD, taller and denser, only where it makes sense.  I need to add that it is important to remember San Mateo’s inclusionary ordinance. With every approved residential project we win there will be more below market rate units dispersed within the building. 

Chelsea Bonini’s Response:

I believe that it’s imperative that the San Mateo City Council and the community get back to the table to discuss tenant protection measures. The negative impacts of not finding a solution have continued in our community, and are not subsiding. The current Council has stated more than once that “rent stabilization” has been decided by the voters and it is not worthy of reconsideration at this time, but I do not agree. One version of tenant protections was considered and was fought against vigorously, but that does not preclude further consideration of a clearly unsolved issue. I have confidence that we can, with open minds and hearts, and with thoughtful and respectful deliberation, arrive at a solution that considers and protects Property Rights and the Human Rights to have a safe home. I propose that we revisit the ideas set forth in the Housing Task Force’s Report (rent stabilization, just cause eviction, relocation assistance, review board, mediation, minimum lease terms, etc), as well as the Toolkit that San Mateo County’s HOME FOR ALL has assembled, and any other ideas that might arise. We must courageously reframe the conversation around Mutual Respect for the Rights of each member of our community because until we find a way to effectively address this issue, we will continue to lose the diversity that supports and sustains our City and makes it such a special place to live now and in the future.

Charlie Drechsler’s Response:

Measure Q – Why didn’t cooler heads prevail?

I don’t like the incomplete public process and civic discord among stakeholders, culminating in a hurried outcome, as the result of heavy political funding from SAMCAR & CAA lobbyists outside San Mateo.  This topic needs to be revisited, and will be; or San Mateo will continue to have crowded streets, because city resources are stretched too thin to pro-actively Code Enforce unsafe apartment/rental living conditions, let alone overcrowding in the starter neighborhoods … NOT just East of El Camino Real!  We need to acknowledge that our fellow residents, whether elderly, veterans, fixed and low income, returning students, and especially our teachers cannot afford to live here.  The current San Mateo County poverty level is hovering at $70,000.00 annually, residents earning less than $105,000.00 won’t qualify for any loans … that’s impossible on a single-new or fixed income, so overcrowding will continue in our community.  This is not an issue of wealth, race or language, for we are all immigrants with a hard-working past.  We have too much in common to be distracted from our community ideals, and providing an example through our behavior, that our children will be proud of.  

Our neighborhoods deserve better!  I was offended to see that our city council didn’t intervene or delay the proceedings, when Spanish speaking residents were still waiting in long lines for translation assistance devices, while the meetings began.  That’s NOT reasonable accommodation!  After that, members of our community who needed accommodation, could watch the proceedings on a TV, because the standing room only chambers were being flushed-out by city staff.  Our largely affected, and primarily Spanish speaking residents were then relegated to the peripheral rooms of city hall – down hallways and far from their elected leaders, and the lectern for open public comment (a symbol for free speech).  We can do better!   

I like the term Rent Stabilization, not Rent Control.  I support renewing an open honest dialogue about reasonable Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA), respectful of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), that influences area pay increases, as well as the costs for goods and services.  Our pay increases don’t always match the CPI, and the costs for goods and services often have regionally specific multipliers; the net result is that we are all paying more to live here, and some more than others.  We should have a local Housing Commission, to steward this topic and others related to affordable and safe housing for all protected classes, under the conditions of our agreements with Regional, State and Federal funding sources.  We need to consider adjustments for non-standard utility assessments and increases, and imposed insurance requirements beyond a property owner’s control (eg: FEMA), and reasonable metrics that protect tenants, while mindful of an owner’s return on investment.

Finally, Just Cause Evictions is a topic that should be explored more, for the safety of our tenants and owners.  The disparity in maintenance levels for rental and owned properties, is largely driven by the motivation for the occupants to take pride in their home.  I believe there are reasonable strategies for a Housing Commission to explore, to incentivize and reward property owners and tenants, for the behaviors that produce a happy, healthy and respectful living environment, across all socio-economic strata.  Education, engagement, early intervention, mitigation and remediation should all be exhausted in a timely manner (with respect to all neighbors), before displacement and relocation is explored.

Joe Goethal’s Response:

I believe there are many practical solutions to the housing crisis. As Mayor of San Mateo last year, I was proud to approve several new housing developments, pushed for low income housing in Bay Meadows, and initiated Workforce Housing in downtown San Mateo.  We passed a higher minimum wage for our employees struggling to make ends meet.  We passed a commercial linkage fee to pay for new affordable housing in San Mateo.  We funded several projects with HIPhousing to preserve the affordable housing units that we currently have.  In addition, I proposed a relocation assistance package that would have eliminated the financial incentive to spiking rents. I strongly support extending our inclusionary housing ordinance to make sure that all new housing developments include affordable housing units.  I am committed to finding a way to keep San Mateo a vibrant, diverse, inclusive community, welcoming to all.

Robert Newsom’s Response:

At this time- I do not think rent control is the main problem for renters in the City of San Mateo. I believe that the problems for renters in San Mateo are two-fold: 1.) Inventory- there is simply not enough “low-income” & “ultra-low” income housing for people/families who make less than $45,000- $75,000 per year. I believe the City of San Mateo should create more housing where units are developed entirely for our working class citizens. Most new developments only have 1-3 “affordable” units- and at that, these still don’t accommodate the income level of the families that need them. 2.) Code Enforcement/Rental Inspector- most property owners are fair, but there are a small percentage of landlords that are “bad apples.” Many tenants do not report safety & health concerns for fear of reprisal. We need to have a way- like a Renter’s Board to whom tenants can anonymously report these concerns/violations; and we need to have Code Enforcement inspectors holding these landlords accountable to the tenant-protection laws and health & safety regulations.  For more about me, or to give me feedback- please visit: www.robertnewsomjr.com Thank you!

Eric Rodriguez’s Response:

In November of last year, San Mateo residents directly voted overwhelmingly against implementing rent control measures in our community.  If chosen to serve, I would feel obligated to respect the will of the voters.  However, if landlords are not adhering to the mutually agreed upon terms of leases or breaking our rental laws in any way, I would support creating harsher penalties for such actions.  That behavior is completely unacceptable to me, and I would do anything in my power to prevent illegal, unjustified evictions. I also would like to learn more about the concept of a “Renters Bill of Rights” that Mr. Bonilla proposed. If done right, that could be a powerful signal to our entire community that the City of San Mateo expects renters to be treated fairly and with respect, with no exceptions.

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