Ben Choi: Without rent control, a lot of people will be forced out of Richmond
on October 28, 2016
This article, one of a series of interviews with this year’s City Council candidates, was originally published by the Richmond Pulse on October 25, 2016.
After serving six years on the Richmond Planning Commission, Ben Choi is vying for a seat on the City Council. An account manager at Marin Clean Energy, Choi’s campaign is supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance. The Marina Bay resident also ran last year for the open seat on the Richmond City Council following Tom Butt’s win as mayor. He spoke with Richmond Pulse about the importance of building affordable housing, working to get a hospital in Richmond and Measure L, the rent control ordinance on the ballot.
Why are you running for City Council?
Richmond is a city that runs on volunteerism. It’s amazing how many things work in Richmond because people are putting in their own time for it. In some ways, me running for City Council is that kind of thing.
I’ve been on the Richmond Planning Commission for six years and in that time I’ve learned how much the decisions we make in this city really matter. Knowing that, it becomes more important to be involved and to make sure that we’re all having the conversations about where to go as a city. That’s what made me decide to run. I also feel that we’ve come a long way as a city in the last ten years and I just want to make sure we’re going in the right direction.
What experience do you have for this position?
I’m on the planning commission and before that I spent two years on the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council (RNCC). For me, it started off on the neighborhood level when my wife and I moved here almost ten years ago. We got very involved in our neighborhood council and soon enough I was representing my neighborhood council on the RNCC. I’m also on the board of Urban Habitat, a nonprofit organization that fights for social and environmental justice.
What two issues need immediate attention in Richmond and how will you address them?
One of the things that needs immediate attention is building more affordable and some market rate housing. We are really behind on our target of building units in the city. Rent control is not going to be the answer to displacement and rising rents. The real answer is to build more affordable housing. I’m also a big advocate of mixed-use development, especially one that goes hand and hand with economic development. I’m especially excited about revitalizing the downtown by building mixed-use housing and we will have built-in customers that way. Our downtown hasn’t hit its stride so we need to find the synergy that can improve the area.
Another thing that needs attention is the issue of there not being a full-service hospital in West County. That’s not something we are going to solve immediately but we have to work with the county, our neighbors in the region and cities like Berkeley to make sure we can bring a full-service hospital back to the area. One thing we can work on immediately is the issue with Alta Bates Hospital, because it seems very likely that they are going to close. If you get into an ambulance and need urgent care in the city of Richmond, the odds are that you are going to have to be taken deep into Oakland or to Martinez to get emergency care.
What are your views on the proposed rent control ordinance?
It’s a very urgent measure. We are addressing this issue as a city at the polls and I believe Measure L is really crucial because of the quickly soaring rents around the city. Many of my friends have had their rents raised like $500 in the past several months. One thing I’m really concerned about is that without rent control, a lot of people are going to be forced out of Richmond, especially those that make Richmond what it is. They are being displaced fairly quickly and I believe we need to stop the bleeding with a measure like rent control. It will keep people here a lot longer as we work to create more affordable housing.
How will you work to bring more jobs to Richmond?
One of the key things is bringing in mixed-use development because it will bring more jobs. When you put a higher density of people, say, in the downtown area, there are going to be more businesses that are going to employ people.
How do you imagine Richmond in ten years?
I expect to see a much more healthy and vibrant downtown and that’s the answer to a lot of issues that we face. That will improve safety, transportation and stabilize our city.
Interviews in this series have been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
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Unfortunately, with Measure L, even more people will be displaced. That’s why Richmond is being flooded with people escaping rent controlled cities like Berkeley Oakland and San Francisco. I urge readers to see Mayor Butts latest posting on rent control at his email forum for some facts and figures on the matter. I also urge readers to read the East Bay Times editorial about who they endorse for city council and why. Hint: Mr Choi isn’t one of them.
Often times people have difficulty receiving the message based on who the messenger is. Thus far, in my opinion, Councilmember Vinay Pimplé has written the most thoughtful assessment of the likely outcome(s) for tenants if Measure L passes. It is clear and it is objective. It can be accessed at vinay4richmond.com. Also, if you haven’t already done so, please read the Measure L document in its entirety – ‘THE RICHMOND FAIR RENT, JUST CAUSE FOR EVICTION AND HOMEOWNER PROTECTION ORDINANCE.’ There is the potential for some pretty serious business and financial implications for the City of Richmond. Pay extra close attention to the provisions in section 11.100.060 with a sharp focus on L, M and N (all lowercase). Especially the last sentence of L that states “The Board is empowered to request and RECEIVE FUNDING when and if necessary from any available source for its reasonable and necessary expenses.” Also pay close attention to M which states “The Board shall be an intergral part of the government of the City, but shall exercise its powers and duties under this chapter independent from the City Council, City Manager and City Attorney, except by request of the board.” N then goes on to discuss the budget formation process and further states “The City Council and the City Manager shall have no authority to oversee, supervise or approve this budget.” What it is basically saying is that a new city department will be formed and run by an appointed rent board that has full operational authority of the department including budgetary control, and if they run out of money or need more money the voters that approved Measure L gave them permission to get it from any available source – like the city’s general fund. Who knows what the Richmond Rent Board budget might end up being. A Grand Jury report from 2011-2012 looking into the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board included a chart that showed the Executive Director of the Rent Board was compensated $183,000, managed a $4,000,000 budget with 21 employees. For comparison sake the Public Works Director was compensated $181,000, managed a $90,000,000 budget with 326 employees. Don’t just listen to the “salespeople” be they for or against Measure L. Read and understand the “contract” and its implications for yourself and make an informed decision. The City Council cannot change a voter approved ballot measure.
Very well said Mr Wright. And thanks for pointing out Vinay Pimples excellent explanation about the true effects of Measure L. Somehow I missed that one.
Also, I’ve yet to find any ‘Homeowners Protection’ anywhere in Measure L.
As far as I can see, homeowners actually risk losing control over who is living in their homes and having tenants who will have more rights than the actual homeowner in their own home. Homeowners lose rights, they are gaining any all.
Section 11.100.040 of the Rent Control ordinance covers Homeowner Protections.
There are three outlined:
1. Temporary Rentals Allowed
2. Small, Second Units Unregulated
3. Renting of a Room Unregulated
I’m most concerned about number 1, “Temporary Rentals Allowed.” It allows an owner to temporarily rent out their personal residence for a period of time not to exceed 12 months otherwise the owner may have to pay the occupants a relocation fee that could possibly be in the thousands of dollars just to regain possession of their personal residence. What happens if an owner gets an 18 month out of the area job assignment or if the owner needs to relocate for an extended period of time to care for a family member? Job related and family leave considerations should have been 100% exempt if the intent was to truly protect the homeowner. Instead we have a situation whereby the relocation fee is not defined and will be left up to the city council to develop a SEPARATE ordinance to cover relocation issues and fees. I think that it’s reasonable to assume that the fees in part will depend upon who makes up the majority on the city council. For some Councilmembers the owners of real estate will in all likelihood be looked upon as a means to balance “social and economic justice” when it comes to having to pay relocation fees to tenants. These are issues and concerns that a homeowner shouldn’t even have to think about.
Thanks for that. I really believe that voters have not heard enough from real professionals who have done the math so to speak about how Measure L is actually going to work and effect everyone. I urge voters to do some reading and dig a little deeper into Measure L. I think you will be surprised to discover it will do more harm than good to the very people you think it’s supposed to help. Good luck.
sure rent control will protect some current tenants however in the long run rent control will increase the cost of all housing, lead to increase rents for new tenants (this will hurt low income and minority tenants), lead to less available housing for all tenants, force landlords to keep very bad tenants (bad for landlords and bad for good tenants)
Rent control is not good public policy and in the long run hurt most tenants – just look at the cost of housing in Berkeley and San Francisco.
It has been stated that rent control will raise rents in the cost of all housing. Isn’t that what an apartment owner wants. Why then are they fighting rent control?
The no on L group has been quiet as far as I know on what we are getting used to whether it be medical care, education, financial “products” and real estate…price gouging.I don’t know what else to call it.An investment opportunity? The evictions, trauma etc… is looked upon as an unavoidable cost of business, not to be borne by them and their friends ,but by others.
Renters tremble when they see the new flower bed put in as they know it will be used as a pretext to raise the rent. Instead of honestly saying “Look, I’ve got you over a barrel and when you look around at what else you can get for the same price my hunch is you will grouse and then choke up the money.” a tenant has to listen to this drivel about increased costs (never are actual numbers given) to justify the price gouging.
“It has been stated that rent control will raise rents in the cost of all housing.”
Yes it has been stated because that’s what actually is happening in cities like Berkeley Oakland and San Francisco for example.
“Isn’t that what an apartment owner wants. Why then are they fighting rent control?”
That’s really more of a question for you isn’t it? I know that if Measure L passes I’m unfortunately going to be asking several hundred dollars more a month on my vacant units, so why am I still against Measure L? You really need to dig a little deeper into the subject. Try reading vinay4richmond dot com and see Mr Pimples comments on Measure L. Then read Mayor Butts ” Five reasons to reject Measure L” at Tom Butt dot com.
As far as the rest of your comments, I really believe Measure L only encourages and pushes owners to raise rents regularly, and that price gouging would have been better addressed as described by council member Pimple. It’s notable that even the city manager did not recommend the option that became Measure L.
But go ahead and vote for it. It’s your money. And why wouldn’t you trust those that the East Bay Times has labeled ” fiscally undisciplined” right? That’s exactly the type of people you want creating multi million dollar bloated and unrestrained bureaucracies in a cash strapped city. What could possibly go wrong?
Add to the reading list a new editorial in the East Bay Times ” Rent Control Exacerbates Housing Shortage”.
Spoiler alert: They recommend voting NO on Measure L.