Councilmembers Talk Fiscal Reports and Renters’ Protections

The Dec. 13 Study Session, the last one scheduled in 2022, had three topics to address.

The first agenda item was the briefest, involving the reappointment of four Commissioners. Kathy Melamed (Charitable Solicitations Commissioner), Terri Smooke (Design Review Commissioner), Helena Rosenthal (Health and Safety Commissioner) and Noelle Freeman (Human Relations Commissioner) each submitted letters of interest to be reappointed.

Their reappointment was essentially a formality. Following the City Council’s unanimous approval, the Commissioners were enabled to serve additional four-year terms starting next year.

“I think all four Commissioners have done a great job,” Councilmember Sharona Nazarian said. “I have no problem extending their [terms].”

Next, Mayor Lili Bosse opened the discussion on a staff report of first quarter fiscal year 2022-23 results. The presentation provided an update on the audited general fund financial results and provided recommendations on how to use available funds on a “future public benefit.”

The report was too long to address in full, but Director of Finance Jeff Muir mentioned a fiscal year 2021-22 General Fund available balance of about $34.1 million. Muir recommended that $29.1 million of that should be allocated to Infrastructure Fund capital projects, with the rest being earmarked for undetermined public benefit.

First quarter results had mostly aligned with his projections. According to Muir, expenditures usually exceed revenue at this time of year due to several factors, such as when property taxes are received.

Councilmember John Mirisch wanted to know more about Muir’s claim that there was more money than anticipated for tourism and marketing going into last year’s budget. Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) as a whole was $42 million, about 6% more than forecasted. With allocation policy leaving much of the tax amounts unspent, the Councilmember asked about the money’s availability for other purposes.

“Would it be fair to say it would be a slush fund,” Mirisch said.

The conversation eventually shifted toward other parts of the report. Mirisch’s suggested balance split, which would double the money for public benefits and focus on funding for land acquisition, was a sign that the initial recommendations would be discussed into the future.

Bosse, meanwhile, raised an issue with the report lacking context. She spoke mostly positively about the data included but called the presentation “too broad” as a whole.

“It’s counterintuitive to say we want to spend $1 million on marketing, but only $300,000 for water,” Bosse said. “When this comes back … we need to be a little more specific.”

Per Mirisch’s request, the last part of the Study Session was reserved for information about protections for renters displaced by redevelopment. Director of Community Development Ryan Gohlich started the agenda item by giving background details of existing legislation.

The Ellis Act, the first law that Gohlich highlighted, establishes guidelines for evictions when a landlord wishes to leave the rental business, such as mandating that the landlord withdraw all apartment units from a particular building and provide at least 120 days of written notice to tenants. Combined with the Municipal Code, the Act gives further protections under certain circumstances, including a tenant’s age or disability status.

Senate Bill 330, or the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, adds to these protections, with provisions on buildings that are scheduled to be demolished and/or redeveloped. For example, developers are required to replace “protected units” with units “that will be available at affordable levels.”

Finally, Gohlich reemphasized the City Council’s previously established priority list, which governs placement in affordable units to certain households. The eight-tier system ranges from displaced senior tenants to any income-qualified household.

With the number of public comments on the agenda item, it became clear that tenants’ protections would remain one of the most relevant issues in the public eye. One commenter called relocation costs “far from the current real estate reality,” while another resident expressed helplessness that his family could be displaced by a proposed development project.

“We are very involved in the community and would like to continue to be part of it,” the latter commenter said. “Situations like this make it difficult.”