City Council Candidates Struggle with Homelessness Issue

Published : Wednesday, February 1, 2017 | 6:54 AM

Demonstrating the advantages of incumbency, two incumbents for the three open Pasadena City Council seats in the upcoming March elections demonstrated a wide breadth of knowledge on municipal issues while predominantly inexperienced but scrappy challengers fought hard to make their positions and new faces known at Tuesday evening’s forum on housing at All Saints Church.

The event was sponsored by Sustainable World and The Economic Justice and Non-Violence Working Group. Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of Friends in Deed, moderated the event.

District 5 incumbent Victor Gordo faced two opponents — education activist Aida Morales and writer Krystal Lopez Padley — while District 7 incumbent Andy Wilson, who is finishing the last two years of his appointed term following former District 7 Councilmember Terry Tornek’s elevation to Mayor, faced four challengers: attorney Phil Hosp, Amtrak employee Bryan Witt, attorney Alejandro “Alex” Menchaca, and Public Relations consultant Sheena Tahilramani.

Councilmember John Kennedy, who is running unopposed in District 3, did not participate in the event.

The two-hour forum, “Is It Getting Too Expensive To Live in Pasadena?” focused on detailed questions on housing in the City as development continues, but the cost of housing rises. Though the council offices are non-partisan, many of the answers ran along party lines, with most of the candidates espousing a liberal point of view on the housing question.

Asked if they would support Tenant Protection Rights which would compensate tenants who are asked to vacate their rental units, Gordo, Morales, Menchaca and Witt each said they would, while Tahilramani and Hosp, said they would not.

Said Gordo, “I was proud to have supported the Tenant Protection ordinance when it came before Council. I think it’s important that there be a level playing field between property owners and tenants.”

Lopez Padley also supported the ordinance, relating the story of a neighbor woman who lost her home when her landlord “kicked her out” to raise the rent, causing her to be homeless with “no remedy or resources.”

“This is a common thing in District 5, and in the City, so of course I would support an ordinance of this kind,” she said.

“I think that contract rights are important between a landlord and a tenant,” said Hosp, in opposing the ordinance, adding, “ I think that we do need to be compassionate about tenants, but this would prevent landlords from enforcing a month-to month tenancy. To the extent that people are put out by a month to month tenancy, I would certainly support those members of the community, but a broad ordinance that prevents the enforcement of contract rights, I would not support.”

Menchaca said he would support a “Just Cause” ordinance, such as the one in Glendale, which defines reasons for evictions and provides relocation benefits in some eviction cases.

Speaking to that issue, Morales also said she would support such an ordinance, saying “Housing is a human right.”

“We can’t have a society built on the benevolence of landlords,” said Lopez Padley, who also supported a ‘Just Cause” ordinance.

Menchaca also supported such an ordinance, calling it an “imperfect, though important, buttress against landlord abuse.”

Councilmember Wilson brought up the issue of rent control, which he is against, but said he would also support a “Just Cause” ordinance in the city.

Witt, as he did more than once during the evening, said he would not support rent control, but supported a co-op housing model, as one solution to the issue.

Tahilramani said she would not support a “Just Cause” ordinance in the city.

Rabbi Grater then presented a series of questions all based on the basic premise of the City setting aside 15% of land in each district for either affordable rentals, or affordably priced homes for low or very low income residents.

Lopez Padley agreed with the idea, saying that “Pasadena is diverse enough that we find 15% of land in each council district.” She cited Irvine as a community which has affordable homes and rentals throughout the city, which are indistinguishable from other homes.

Hosp disagreed, arguing that the City may be simply taking away land from private property owners. Gordo, going a step further, called the question “problematic, and maybe unconstitutional because you can’t take the property from private owners, and if you did, where would the money come from?”

Gordo suggested removing nuisance properties and converting those to affordable housing.

Menchaca divided up the 15% figure into affordable homes, rentals, and very low income housing, but said it was “a very good idea” that a percentage of land be set aside for very low income residents, adding that he wouldn’t mind if District 7 was “a little more diverse.”

Morales agreed with the idea, saying that low income properties and higher income properties should co-exist in the same neighborhoods.

Tahilramani said “Absolutely not,” though she called some of the evening’s questions “very vague” and said, “It’s hard for us to get answers that make any logical sense.”

Witt once again brought up the notion of co-op housing, but said he supported the idea in principle. “I want to build a bridge to the community, not a wall,” he said.

Finally, the candidates listened to two speakers deeply involved with local housing — long time resident Patrice Marshall Mckenzie, who spoke of her difficulties as a young educated professional with a good income being unable to afford a home in Pasadena, and Dorothy Edwards, a formerly homeless drug addict who lived on the streets, and now works as a drug and abuse counselor — and were asked to present a big picture solution to the issue of homelessness.

Witt called the problem of homelessness in Pasadena and the increase of homelessness in Los Angeles County “shocking.”

“There are people sleeping on Colorado Boulevard. For a society with so much abundance to have so many homeless is just inexcusable,” he continued,” Rather than criminalize our homeless, we need to lobby our state and federal representatives for assistance with this emergency.”

Witt said he would lobby county, state and federal agencies to “fully fund community outreach programs for addiction, domestic violence and mental health.”

Gordo talked of his own experiences as a young boy born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and brought to Pasadena at the age of 5.

“I arrived to live in a garage,” he said, “so I know viscerally what it’s like to be right at the edges of homelessness. I know how important it is for us to address this very complex issue. It’s a regional, state and national issue, and we should have a multi-modal approach.”

Gordo said the council should revisit and amend the inclusionary housing ordinance, and change the second unit ordinance. “We have to build creatively where we can,” he said. He also implored the audience to support the county housing measure, which is also on the ballot in March.

Morales said that her vision for Pasadena is a “safer and cleaner city,” and noted that the emphasis with the homelessness issue should be on prevention and not just reacting to the problem.

Lopez Padley related her own difficulties as a young educated professional in finding job opportunities and said that she and her husband were “homeless for six months and living from couch to couch with three little kids.” She noted the large number of renters in the city and said she recognized the difficulty of finding housing not only for low income residents, but for those who “fall in the hole of the donut and don’t qualify for any programs, and are looking just to survive on a good paycheck in a difficult economy in a difficult city.”

Hosp said that he “wanted to keep people like [Edwards and McKenzie] here. And we want to keep seniors here, because that is how you maintain communities, adding that there is no excuse for a woman escaping domestic violence or for a child to be homeless.”

Like the previous candidates, Menchaca also spoke of the difficulties of keeping housing, revealing his own difficulties when he was laid off “during the recession.”

“I had a real hard time getting back on my feet then, and I understand these issues,” he said. He called his own self-founded advocacy group, BASTA, the “last line against homelessness,” and called for residents, business owners, and political leaders to sit down at the table and come up with consensus building and “to create a better Pasadena for us all.”

Like the others, Tahilramani related her own difficulties in trying to purchase a home locally, and said that “inclusionary housing ordinance” was an “easy answer” and that “second unit housing has never worked.” Tahilramani also told the group that her “creative solution” was to provide AirBnB housing in her home in order to work towards owning a property.

“There are no singular solutions to the homeless problem,” said Wilson, who participated in the January homeless count.

“It’s important,” he said, “to put faces to the issue. Faces and stories drive us to action.” Wilson also said that the state has been under-producing housing for the last 30 years, which has created a lack of housing stock driven home prices up.

“No wonder housing is so expensive,” he said.

“It reflects who we are to start tackling this issue with honesty and integrity. But when you talk about affordability,” said Wilson, “you also have to talk about wages,” saying that he voted for the City’s increased minimum wage, because you can’t live in this city for $10 an hour, or maybe even $15 an hour.”

The City Council election is scheduled for March 7, 2017.

 

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