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No TOPA bill for Richmond, Council holds

on November 20, 2019

Richmond’s City Council on Tuesday halted the drafting of a rule that would have required landlords to offer local tenants the first opportunity to buy their homes before they are put on the market or demolished.

Washington, DC’s version of the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act, enacted in 1980, has been a model for similar proposals in cities across the U.S. The City Council broadly supported adapting the act to Richmond in a vote in September, with council members arguing that it could help prevent the displacement of low-income residents.

Only Mayor Tom Butt opposed September’s move to draft, but at Tuesday’s meeting the council changed course. Every council member voted to stop pursuing a local version of TOPA, with the exception of Councilmember Melvin Willis, who was absent from the meeting.

Multiple TOPA opponents have spoken against the policy at council meetings since the September move to draft, arguing that it would defy landlords’ rights to sell their property at market value and drive real estate investors away from Richmond, among other critiques.

An agenda report accompanying Tuesday’s resolution to halt TOPA acknowledged the pushback, saying, “In the weeks since that vote it has become clear that for a number of reasons, such an ordinance would likely face heavy opposition and little support among the general public.”

Councilmember Jael Myrick, a sponsor of the September resolution with Councilmembers Demnlus Johnson III and Willis, apologized that his introduction of TOPA to the public — through a model TOPA bill he encountered in his work at the East Bay Community Law Center – could have misled people about what the final ordinance might look like.

“I own that I messed this up. I took the template they gave me…that template was not going to be the final ordinance,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been made a public document.”

Myrick said his law center had no material interest in the passage of a TOPA ordinance, adding that “I did speak on this with the city attorney.”

“I am hopeful that maybe folks will come together around other ideas,” he added.

Community members voiced mixed reactions to the Councilmembers’ turnabout on TOPA. Richmond Police Officers Association President Benjamin Therriault said he “appreciate[d] the humility of councilman Myrick.” But another public commenter, Ilona Clark, said that a Richmond TOPA proposal “may only be dormant.”

“We haven’t forgotten that every single one of you voted for this except for Mayor Butt,” Clark said.

In other action taken at Tuesday’s meeting, the council passed the first reading of an ordinance that would change Richmond’s building code to comply with newly-released 2019 California Building Standards Code and the California Green Building Standards Code.

California cities must enforce state standards whether or not they adopt them locally. However an “adoption ordinance” can make it easier to change city rules to match state, said Lina Velasco, Richmond’s director of Planning and Building Services.

Mayor Butt said he was “not impressed” with how the proposed amendments might add to existing problems – such as repetitive language and obsolete passages – that he says already plague Richmond’s building rules. “I’ve been on the city’s case for decades to get them to clean all this up,” Butt said.

“I’m just going to tell you I’m not going to support it…It’s just the same old garbage,” he said. The ordinance passed, with only Mayor Butt voting no.

4 Comments

  1. Christina Borowski on November 20, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Important correction: The community did not voice “mixed reactions” to the council’s decision – you can verify this on the city recording of the Nov 20 council meeting (public comments start at 5:08:55). Community members may have had different tones in addressing the council, but they were united in support of the council abandoning this harmful proposal. No one opposed creating true tenant opportunities to purchase homes, but this TOPA proposal was not about that. The only beneficiaries would have been lawyers and outside special interests at the expense of all Richmond residents. That’s why throughout several council meetings, crowds gathered in opposition and there was not a single argument put forward in favor of it. Many community members felt so strongly about it, they waited through 5 hours of this final meeting to let the council know how damaging this proposal has been and simply removing it would not be sufficient: Richmond needs to ensure this never happens again.

  2. Kim Paternoster on November 22, 2019 at 8:18 am

    We have not forgotten what all of you, except Mayor Butt, voted to proceed on. Your time in council is coming to an end. You poked a sleeping bear.

  3. ritchie cook on November 23, 2019 at 7:23 am

    ….driving real estate investors away…. Look out the coming landlord shortage!!

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