Wes Wellman Archived Articles
DIARY OF A PROPERTY MANAGER
There may be a business with more wacky experiences than property management but I don't know what it is. Here is a sampler of notable events from a typical month.
1. Awakened At 2:30 a.m. by the emergency pager. Checked the answering service to find that the caller had hung up leaving no message.
2. Returned a call from a bilingual tenant. Got his answering machine, the recorded message from which began, " I'm sorry I'm not here to miss your call…."
3. A tenant called complaining that a plumber was in the front yard with pipes in the ground from which there was water spewing forth. I explained that this was known as a sprinkler system.
4. All tenants at a building were informed to move their cars from the underground garage during a particular time period to facilitate preventative rootering of the drain lines. I called one tenant who had not moved her car. She said that it was not a convenient time to do so. I asked her if it was a convenient time to have a sewage back up in her apartment.
5. Received a 5:30 a.m. emergency page and another at 5:32 a.m. At 5:35 a.m. I checked both messages. The first reported that the tenant had awakened to find the sprinkler system on. She called back two minutes later to say that it had gone off automatically, so everything seemed fine. Had an early breakfast that day.
6. Tenant in a building called to complain that the lawn sprinkler, which was operating at 6:00 p.m. made the steps slippery when she left for dinner and suggested an alternative time for operation at approximately 1:30 a.m.
7. After changing the time for the sprinklers to operate at 1:30 a.m. another tenant call to complain that they awakened her and she suggested an alternative time for operation at approximately 6:00 p.m.
8. Elderly tenant regularly calls to complain that the "man upstairs" keeps coming in to her apartment when she is asleep and eats the food in her refrigerator. I promise to speak to "him" and she is always grateful.
9. Spoke to the decorator for a progress report on an interior refurbishing project. He asked why I was calling him so often. I said, "I'm keeping you on a short leash." He said, "Ooooh, I might like that."
10. Tenant called to tell me that she had been late to her class on Getting Organized because she couldn't find her keys or her shoes. She said they told her not to speak to anyone on the phone more that three minutes, so she hung up. Wish more people would take that class.
11. Owner called and began by asking, "got a minute?" To which I replied, "Actually I don't." He then proceeded to tell me what he wanted to tell me anyway.
12. One of my employees called in to say that she had an acting audition and a migraine, but could come in for an hour. Only in L.A.
13. Tenant called to say she wasn't going to admit the workman that had been scheduled for her unit because she was sitting in the apartment nude drinking beer. At least she wasn't my employee.
14. Tenant called to report a domestic dispute between the couple next door. The man locked his girl friend out of the apartment on the balcony and left the premises.
15. Sent a Latina property manager to a building to serve notices. One of the tenants tells her, "No pizza door hangers allowed here lady."
16. Tenant in a $300 rent controlled apartment called to say that he had a chance for a subsidized unit at a lower rent, but was requesting $12,000 to $15,000 to help defray moving costs.
17. Got a voice mail message from an elderly owner, "This is... (Pause). This is... (Pause). Who the hell
18. Elderly owner brought a letter she had sent to me that had been returned. It was addressed as follows: Wes Wellman #3, 1415 Stanford Santa Monica Blvd., 90404. She should have known that only Wes Wellman #1 is at that address.
19. Tenant called to say that she would be gone for two weeks to attend a "fat farm.' She went on to tell me of the list of three great nearby restaurants that she planned to visit on the sly.
20. Just got a new magazine in the mail- "Rest Room World." Call me if you want the subscription information.
21. Tenant, during a city code inspection, said she did not want smoke detectors because they were radioactive and would kill her children.
22. Section 8 tenant, who pays $17 per month, upon getting a three-day notice more than two weeks after her rent was due, defiantly stated, "I don't get paid until the 10th." ("Paid"= a government check)
23. Upon taking over management of a new building, served a late paying tenant with a three-day notice to which the tenant replied, "The previous owner let us pay whenever we wanted. What's the problem."
24. Received a complaint from a neighbor about a female tenant who creates a disturbance by beating her boyfriend.
25. Received a request from a tenant to have the electrical wiring checked in her unit because "people" were listening to her conversations.
26. Same tenant called again to have her plumbing checked because the same "people" were listening to her through her toilet when she tinkled.
27. Tenant called complaining that when she walks across her carpeting her feet catch on fire. Told her to call her doctor that perhaps she had a medical condition. She said that she had already called her doctor and he said that she should elevate her feet. She did that but it didn't help so she was requesting that we send someone to inspect her unit.
An escape chute has been installed at the south end of the Santa Monica Pier. The chute can be used in emergency situations when large numbers of the public need to be evacuated quickly, like during a speech by a City Council member.
Famima, a Japanese convenience store chain, has opened its first Santa Monica location on the Third Street Promenade. It was described by one customer as...”sort of like an upgraded 7-Eleven.” Homeless panhandlers have adjusted and are asking patrons for any loose stocks and bonds.
A three-story office building has been approved for the old McDonald’s restaurant site on the northeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and 2nd Street. The approval process with the City of Santa Monica took over 10 years, or as they say in the Planning Department, the project was streamlined.
100,000 gallons of sewage escaped into the Santa Monica Bay as a result of problems at a pumping station in Los Angeles County. Electrical problems caused the station to shut down and sewage to back up, an emergency backup electrical system that was supposed to turn on in the event of a power outage failed to activate, an alarm system didn’t work, and a separate system designed to measure the depth and pressure inside the pumping station also didn’t work. Otherwise, the system functioned normally.
Community discussions are underway as to how to make the Downtown Santa Monica commercial district more attractive and upscale. It seems the present mix of merchants is not good enough for all the low and moderate-income people living here that need rent control protection.
Schools Superintendent John Deasy is leaving to assume a similar post in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Prince George’s County has 199 schools compared with Santa Monica/Malibu’s 19. Deasy said he would have many things to do in his new position, the first of which is to determine who the heck Prince George was.
His new position pays $250,000 per year compared with $150,000 annually here. However, Deasy said he is leaving for the challenge not the money. Spending an additional $100,000 per year is a universally coveted challenge.
He praised Santa Monica’s political leaders with whom he said he enjoyed working. Of course, it is common practice for departing civil servants to lie through their teeth.
The City is asking the public not to feed squirrels. Feedings have acted as a magnet drawing an overpopulation of the rodents. Alternatively, squirrels should be directed to the city’s homeless feeding program.
In a related move, a new ordinance has been introduced prohibiting standing on the rear two paws with the intent of begging for nuts.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education is moving forward in an effort to install artificial turf to replace the natural grass fields at John Adams Middle School. The announcement was made by a district spokesman, who in keeping with the change, showed up in a polyester suit and wore a wig.
The head of Los Angeles’ Homeless Authority had told the agency that he is planning to quit. Perhaps working with the workless, aka homeless, makes a person stop to think, “these people who don’t work may be on to something.”During a Meet & Greet at the Best Western Hotel, Bob Holbrook announced that he would seek reelection to the City Council for a fifth term. After four terms on the council, it is unclear who there was new for him to meet.
The Meet & Greet was originally scheduled to be held at Shutters, but was changed to the Best Western in keeping with Holbrook’s common man appeal.
He might have considered reaching out to homeless voters by holding the event in front of a 7-11.
The Santa Monica Daily Press recently ran a front page article on the junk food that the City Council members like to consume, complete with a picture of the food tray. Now we know what journalists mean by a slow news day.
The Santa Monica Daily Press recently ran a front page article on the junk food that the City Council members like to consume, complete with a picture of the food tray. Now we know what journalists mean by a slow news day.
Vice President Cheney’s hunting incident had important foreign policy implications. If Cheney would shoot a friend, what will he do to an enemy?
||Cheney’s political action committee is looking for a new name. It seems big donors consider it a little risky to be one of the “Friends of Cheney.”|
One Way To Get A Vacancy In Your Low Rent Units
To my shock the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Mr. Wellman, I’m calling to give my 30-day notice.” Why was I shocked? The call was from an unemployed, 50-year old, single, female tenant in a one-bedroom apartment, North of Wilshire, paying $350 per month. She was moving into an apartment owned by Community Corp, the Santa Monica based affordable housing provider, where she would have a 2-bedroom unit and her rent was going to be even lower than the $350 per month she was paying me. Talk about a win-win!
The way Community Corp. works is they take applications only in January of each year from interested parties. When vacancies arise that match households size and income, they notify the applicant so that it can apply. In the event an excessive amount of applicants qualify for an apartment, Community Corp. randomly selects eligible households to apply.
You are encouraged to notify your tenants in low rent apartments that they can contact Community Corp. in January only by calling 310-394-8487. You might offer to dial the phone for them. Persons who applied previous to 2004 must reapply to receive continued consideration.
New Disclosure Requirements, When Selling Santa Monica Properties
The old saying, “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure” also applies to real estate, particularly Santa Monica apartments. You may not know it, but your property could be listed in the City’s Historic Resources Inventory. This is a list of properties, which City staff has identified as landmarks, structures of merit or as contributors to historic districts.
We’re not necessarily talking a Frank Gheary designed building here. While preserving historical treasures is a laudable undertaking, the preservation process in Santa Monica is often a front for an alternative agenda, saving old rent-controlled apartments from the wrecking ball.
At it’s December 9, 2003 meeting, the City Council instructed staff to draft an ordinance, which would require the owner or selling agent of any property to provide the buyer with notice of whether the property has been included in the City’s Historical Resources Directory. The disclosure would have to be made “as soon as practicable” prior to the transfer of title. The law would also require the buyer to execute an acknowledgment of receipt of the disclosure. The acknowledgment of receipt would be filed with the City Clerk.
Be careful. Don’t just assume your property is not on “the list” because you don’t think it is anything special. You can check the Historic Resource Directory by visiting the Planning Counter at City Hall. In the near future the information will be available on-line.
New Standards for Apartment Building Design Being Developed
Whether architects in the future will need to use the left or right side of their brains when designing Santa Monica apartment buildings is being determined as the Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board work to revise development standards. The objective of the new Development Guidelines is to require that new buildings are compatible with existing structures, pedestrian friendly, and in conformity with a new “universal access” law dealing with handicapped accessibility that takes effect next year. The other goal of the guidelines is easy administration. [Sure.]
How to achieve conformity to standards without becoming a cookie cutter community is the tightrope that planners must walk. Many trees will die as the proposals from conformists and creators do battle over the next few months.
Recalling the Recall
I have a rule of thumb for the outcome of political contests-whatever/whomever I favor is likely to lose. So when the Recall of Gray Davis got going I tended to believe the polls in the L.A. Times showing the Recall losing and Crus Bustamante winning the governorship if the Recall passed.
That was until the voice on the other end of the phone one day said, "Gray Davis had got to go." The voice was that of my life-long Democratic, Hollywood-liberal brother. At that point, I knew something was up.
Few people took tax crusader Ted Costa seriously when he began his Quixotic signature gathering campaign to Recall Gov. Gray Davis. After all, only one governor in the history of the Country had ever been recalled and we were less than a year removed from an election when for the first time in California history the Democratic Party won every statewide office including the governorship.
But things really got rolling when Republican Congressman, and millionaire, Darrell Issa ponied up $1.7 million to hire professional signature gatherers to help qualify the Recall measure for the ballot.
The Recall process actually traces its heritage to the City of Los Angeles 100 years ago. At that time the population was about 50,000. This was no sleepy little town. There was an average of one murder per day. The politicians were so corrupt that Reformists helped pass legislation allowing for elected office holders to be recalled. Eight years later Hiram Johnson pushed through a copycat version of the Los Angeles law for the whole state of California.
It was unclear in the beginning whether this was a populist uprising taking Davis to task for mishandling of the energy crisis, for allowing an unprecedented budget deficit crisis that he talked about solving by raising taxes, for tripling the car tax and for presiding over a government for sale to the highest bidder or whether this was the work of a "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy".
The people who really knew were those with access to polling data. While Democrats united against the Recall and pledged initially not to run against Davis, every Republican with name recognition and PAC either ran or talked about running. That group included Darrell Issa, Peter Uberoth, Bill Simon, and Richard Riordan. These smart rich men had seen the numbers and knew how vulnerable Davis was.
One other man had seen the numbers also and the surprise announcement on the Jay Leno show by Arnold Schwartzenneger that he was entering the race for governor guaranteed that this was going to be a contest unlike any other in California history.
Santa Monicans knew Arnold years before the rest of California did. Golds Gym on Main Street was where he worked out after Joe Gold moved his famous facility there from its original location in Venice. There was a Santa Monica landlord contingent that worked out there also. Jan Feldman, Dave Simon and for a brief time, me. Whenever Arnold arrived at the gym there was electricity in the air as the word spread, "Arnold's here". Arnold didn't just lift weights, he held court. That same charisma which was originally in evidence thirty some years ago only in sweaty gyms eventually propelled him to fame and fortune as an internationally famous movie star and now major political figure.
Gray Davis by contrast succeeded primarily because people did not know him. He was a remote figure that even close aides complained made little effort to know them. His major political success was due in large part to the fact that California statewide political campaigns did not require old-style "retail" campaigning. All major print and broadcast media long ago closed their Sacramento bureaus. Political campaigns by default became a battle of television attack ads and a scramble for special interest money to pay for them. Davis learned to raise enough money to create ads that made the public dislike his opponents more that they disliked him. In a nutshell that may be his legacy.
With Schwarzenegger in the race, the campaign rules were instantly rewritten. News outlets from around the world anointed the Recall the latest media circus. True to the circus theme, one wag speculated a new Las Vegas tiger-taming duo, Siegfried and Gray, was about to be announced. California politics was on the air. TV, radio and print were alive with recall information and disinformation from the time of Arnold's announcement forward.
The media frenzy continues even now that the election is over. Before last week, how many of you knew, Herb Wesson of Culver City was the Speaker of the Assembly. We now know that, not because of any legislative initiative on his part, but because Arnold visited him at the Capital, giving Assemblyman Wesson what he described as his "fifteen minutes of fame".
During the campaign, Schwarzennegger assembled a crack team of advisors largely made up of former aides to Pete Wilson, who like Davis was a charisma-challenged but successful politician. They enrolled Mike Murphy, who ran the respected Presidential media campaign for John McCain, to engineer a statewide bus campaign to feed the media their daily diet of Arnold. Murphy lieutenant Rob Gluck is quoted in the Weekly Standard describing the two-month Schwarzennegger campaign as having to "lay tack full speed ahead as fast as we can, trying to get to the Pacific before the train does".
Well into the campaign readers of the L.A. Times were largely led to believe based on Field Polls that the Recall was losing and even if it passed Cruz Bustamente would prevail thanks to Schwarzennegger and McClintock splitting the anti-Davis votes. But just in case, Editor John Carroll assembled a team of ideologically aligned journalists to dig the dirt on Schwarzennegger. Beginning on the Thursday before the election the Times unleashed their smear campaign against Arnold largely based on anonymous accounts of years-old incidents of sexual hanky panky.
These charges were leveled at a time when new polls showed the Recall passing and Schwarzennegger winning handily.
On the timing of the L.A. Times articles, Jill Stewart of the L.A. Daily news wrote:
"Some politicos dub the Thursday before election 'Dirty Tricks Thursday'. That's the best day for an opponent to unload his bag of filth against another candidate, getting maximum headlines, while giving his stunned opponent no time to credibly investigate or respond to the charges.
It creates a Black Friday, where the candidate spends a precious business day right before the election desperately investigating the accusations, before facing a weekend in which reporters only care about further accusations that invariably spill out of the woodwork. Dirty Tricks Thursday is not used by the media to sink a campaign. Yet the Times managed to give every appearance of trying to do so. It's nothing short of journalistic malpractice when a paper mounts a last-minute attack that can make or break one of the most important election in California history. The Times looked even more biased by giving two different reasons for publishing its gruesome article at the last minute. Now, there is no time left before the election to separate fact from fiction regarding incidents that happened as long as 20 and 30 years ago.
Since at least 1997, the Times has been sitting on information that Gov. Gray Davis in an "office batterer" who has attacked female members of his staff, thrown objects at subservient and launched into red-faced fits, screaming the f-word until staffers cower...When I spoke to a (Times) reporter involved, he said the Times were against attacking a major political figure using anonymous sources. Just what they did last week to Schwarzenegger.
Weeks ago, Times editors sent two teams of reporters to dig dirt on Schwarzenegger, one on his admitted use of steroids as a bodybuilder, one on the old charges of groping women from Premier Magazine. Who did the editors assign, weeks ago, to investigate Davis' violence against women who work for him? Nobody. The paper's protection of Davis is proof, on its face, of gross bias. If Schwarzenegger is elected governor, it should be no surprise if Times reporters judge him far more harshly than they ever judged Davis. The Los Angeles Times, understand, supported Gray Davis when he first ran, supported him again for re-election, and editorialized strongly against the recall."
Rightfully or wrongfully, the Times revelations caused an uproar. The Weekly Standard had this to say: "There are some days in the campaign business when it would be easiest for an aide to wake up, put on her best dress, then step in front of a bus. Today in Arnold's world is one of those days. The morning see charges that Arnold is an ass-grabbing lout. By evening, he'll stand accused of loving Adolf Hitler. As one colleague puts it, 'Any day spent on the trail talking about Adolf Hitler is not a good day'".
The veteran advisors to Schwarzenegger euqipped him to handle the crisis forthrightly and with assurance. While not admitting to specifics he conceded, " Where there is smoke there is fire". Continuing, he said, "Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes, yes it is true I was on rowdy movie sets, and I have done things I thought were playful that I now recognize that I have offended people. I want to say to them that I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize because that is not what I was trying to do. When I am governor I will prove to women that I will be a champion for women. I hope you give me a chance to prove this."
Thus, without delay he admitted wrongdoing, framed the behavior as occurring within the believable and plausibly permissive movie-set environment, apologized, explained that the behavior was a thing of the past, which seemed to square with the dated time-stamp of the allegations, pledged to be a champion for women and asked humbly for their support. In other words, he handled the situation perfectly. Bill Clinton could only look on in awe.
For their part Schwarzenegger's spokesmen adopted an equally brilliant strategy. The Weekly Standard wrote: "The campaign will try out any number of combinations: Blame the Los Angeles Times for opening a can of worms too close to the election, Blame Gray Davis for unleashing his Democratic henchmen who doubtless supplied the tips to the Los Angeles Times, blame the Times for not spending enough time blaming Gray Davis (for abuse of his staff). The campaign does everything, in fact, but blame Gray Davis for reading the Los Angeles Times. And this, it turns out, is a devastatingly effective strategy for two reasons: (a) Voters hate the media, and (b) if there's anything Californians hate more than the media it's Gray Davis".
The made-for-television campaign built to a dramatic climax and ended in Hollywood fashion with a victory by the handsome hero. The final scene on Election Day was the victory celebration with Arnold and his Kennedy clan wife and relatives surrounded by a politically correct congregation of admirers. The music played, the confetti flew, arms waived, backs were slapped, smiles tugged at face-lifts, this being California after all, and security secured, looking properly dour. On hand to report it all were 100 TV crews from 14 countries, which is far more than even a president of the United States usually gets. For the media, the event marked the beginning of an attitude adjustment from cynicism to acceptance.
Everyone at the affair had their own private reaction. My favorite was that of the Weekly Standard's correspondent who wrote, "In such close proximity to all the Shrivers, my teeth feel smaller and my hair thinner". He also pointed out that Congressman Darrell Issa, who bankrolled the signature gathering campaign, was denied access to the victory celebration and had to find his own way in through a service elevator.
In summarizing the election Time magazine wrote:
"In so many ways, Schwarzenegger offered voters the opposite of the governor they had but no longer wanted. Davis was about as experienced as politicians come. Schwarzenegger knew little about the workings of Sacramento. Davis and his wife had no children; Schwarzenegger and his wife had four. He might be a multimillionaire, and Davis by comparison a man living paycheck to paycheck, but Schwarzenegger could speak the common language of what it meant to provide for a family.
Political movements can suddenly spring to life. Even when they are unplanned, you can always see, in retrospect, how they came to pass. They can have a destiny like quality. The Golden State overturns the status quo every decade or so. In the 1960s voters rejected Gov. Pat Brown for actor Ronald Reagan. In the 1970s, mad-as-hell Californians ushered in a national tax revolt with Proposition 13. In the 1990s, we clamored for term limits as a means to keep lawmakers in check.
Why this time? While the media immediately used the Schwarzenegger victory as an excuse to commit sociology, does his victory really mark a national trend with wider implications? Or was it the result of the coming together of three strands unlikely to be found outside California: an incumbent unsuited to the demands of modern campaigning, a recall law that does not demand misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance to be proved against the incumbent; and a method of election that allowed the pro-choice, pro-gun-safety, pro gay-rights Schwarzenegger to avoid a Republican primary that he might have lost to a more conservative candidate"?
For the number crunchers, the ranks of those favoring the recall gradually grew from 46% in the first week of April to 55.4% on Election Day. The hard-core opponents comprised 43% of those polled in April and barely moved to 44.6% on Election Day. Schwarzenegger was the favorite of 22% of the voters in April but 48.7% voted for him Oct. 7. McClintock stood at 9% in April and 13.4% Oct 7. "Other" candidates were favored by 23% of voters in April, before Bustamente announced, and Cruz garnered 31.7% of the Oct. 7 vote. To me most stunning of all, 24% of registered Democrats, including my brother, voted for the recall.
Santa Monica marched to the beat of its own liberal drum. Almost two-thirds of voters opposed the recall. Bustamente received 33% Schwarzenegger 30% and McClintock 13% of the votes cast for governor.
Our Senator Sheial Kuehl, always liberal but usually civil, was not her normally gracious self when she spoke to the Sacramento Bee. In reflecting on the election she described herself as sad, angry and pondering what the Senate would need to do in order to save the state from Schwarzenegger's ignorance. She went on to say that she doubted that all the legislators would go to the State of the State speech as there would not be a lot of content that would interest legislators coming form the new governor. Quote, "Nothing".
Senator Kuehl's harsh rhetoric may have been the perfect segue from the often light-hearted, almost fictional nature of the campaign to the hard reality of governing that now faces the governor-elect. The stakes are high. California's economy accounts for an eight of the U.S. economy and is larger than the economies of all but four nations, ranking between Britain and France. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, when asked why he had agreed to be a Schwarzenegger advisor said, "You can't have trouble out there without it affecting the rest of the country”. As US News wrote, "... when the Golden State sneezes, the national economy can easily catch a cold".
What will Arnold do and how will he do it?
Topfive.com lists the following as his top priorities.
1. Shut down the Los Angeles Times
2. Have the California Highway Patrol switch to Hummers
3. Order California's department of agriculture to classify steroids as a vegetable
4. Institute a flab tax
5. Add English subtitles to televised gubernatorial speeches
Seriously, let’s look first at how he will go about doing what he wants. Every indication is that he will try to be a consensus builder. His transition team includes representatives of all key stakeholders in the political mix regardless of party. With the likes of Willie Brown on the team, he has sent the message that he's not your Mother's Republican. The gestures to be inclusive have been well received. Brown quipped, "He's the first Republican to do anything for me since Abe Lincoln".
He made the rounds at the Capital paying his respects to all the players there, saying all the right things about working in a bi-partisan fashion in the interests of the people of California.
If he encounters gridlock or a legislature that won't play ball with him, he brings a trump card to the game that can't be ignored. With his celebrity, ability to get media attention and raise money, he can take issues directly to the public through the imitative process in a way that no predecessor could. Respectful of this, the democratically controlled legislature will be forced to work with him to avoid the wrath of the voters. Elected Republicans will enjoy a newfound relevance at the bargaining table as a consequence of this fact and as a result of the Governor's veto power.
Priority one is to improve California's business climate. The state was recently ranked fifth worst in a cost-of-doing-business survey. It will take more than campaign rhetoric to impress business leaders. Their chief concerns are skyrocketing workers' compensation and liability insurance premiums and higher energy costs. Critics contend that Gov. Davis never had a defined legislative agenda to address the needs of business. The biggest change from the previous administration is a philosophical alignment with business and the fact that business leaders will have a seat at the table in the decision making process.
The state budget is the other elephant in the room. Depending upon whose figures you choose, the state faces a deficit of between $4 and $20 billion. Having pledged not to cut education or children’s' programs or to raise taxes, the new governor has to be either very luck or very smart to fashion a solution.
His first step was to recruit Donna Arduin, the Director of Florida's Department of Finance, to conduct and independent "audit" of California's finances. She is taking leave from her Florida position with the Jeb Bush administration and is donating her time for the audit. This won't be the top-to-bottom examination of the states finances that Schwarzenegger promised on the campaign trail. There isn't time for that. Her deadline is January 10, 2004 for a report that is likely to try to establish a definitive number for the state deficit and to list all the borrowing, diversions, and tricks upon which the current budget rests.
Assuming a budget deficit of major proportions, Schwarzenegger may recommend to the legislature a measure to be put on the March ballot that would restructure the debt by floating bonds to cover the cost, to adopt a constitutional amendment that would prohibit future deficit spending, and the institution of a spending cap to keep this from happening again.
Luck may also play a part. If the mild economic recovery currently underway continues or picks up, that will help reduce the deficit. Unemployment is trending down from its 6.9% peak last December. Keitaro Matsuda, senior economist with Union Bank, has forecast real growth of 2% for the state this year, while the Congressional Budget Office is forecasting U.S. growth of 2.2% this year and 3.8% in 2004.
On the energy front, Schwarzenegger's preliminary proposal takes a Republican-style reliance on free markets and mixes in such traditional liberal favorites as aggressive conservation and increased use of green energy. The proposal would create two markets for electricity: Residential users and small business would continue to get power from the state's utilities, while large users could take their chances with private energy firms.
Political issues will be on the new governor's agenda as well. In his campaign he vowed to repeal the law granting illegal immigrants the right to apply for California driver's licenses.
The California Republican Assembly, a conservative wing of the State party, recently started gathering the nearly 400,000 signatures needed to ask voters to overturn the law.
Schwarzenegger has returned the Republican Party to power 11 months after its worst electoral defeat in 120 years. They are now poised to return to competitiveness in fundraising with the Democratic Party which controls both houses of the legislature, all statewide offices except governor, both U.S. Senate seats and a majority of the state's congressional delegation.
Can the political neophyte do what he has promised? Most pundits and political pros vastly underestimated the savvy, intelligence and determination of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has succeeded at everything he has tried and those who doubt him now probably do so at their own peril.
(Sources for this article include The Weekly Standard, U.S. News and World Report, California Insider,topfive.com, National Public Radio, SFGate.com, The Sacramento Bee, The Daily News, The Los Angeles Times and The LookOut)
FALL PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE
The advent of the fall rainy season affords apartment owners the opportunity of taking a variety of preventative maintenance measures, the cost of which will be substantially lower than waiting for the effects of rain to mandate more costly remedies.
A number of recommended items follow.
Begin with a Little Preventative Maintenance on Your Own
If possible, have handy man or other low cost laborer remove leaves, tree branches and any other accumulated debris from your roof, gutters and downspouts. Don't be surprised to find strange items such as mattresses, cots, etc. that have been "bequeathed" to you anonymously by tenants. Roofs and drains are designed to have water flow off the roof to the ground. Accumulated debris inhibits the appropriate water flow and can cause pooling, which leads to leaks, or can redirect the flow of water to unintended areas which may be vulnerable to water intrusion.
You don't need a roofer and gutter man to tell you this, and if you take this preliminary step before dispatching them, it's one less thing for them to do, saving them time and you money and allowing them to concentrate on higher priority issues.
Have Your Roof Checked
Engage a roofing contractor to inspect the roof. Even with a newer roof, annual inspections are important. The seals of vent pipes become brittle and crack in the hot dry weather. A little sealer applied before the rains can prevent damage to ceilings and walls from water intrusion. Discuss the price of the inspection in advance. If the roofer is trustworthy, it may make sense to authorize in advance, subject to a cap, minor repairs to be performed at the time of inspection to save the cost of a return trip.
If the roof is under warranty be sure to have the roofer that installed it do the inspection and preventative maintenance work. Allowing other contractors to work on a roof may invalidate some or all of the warranty.
Have Your Gutters Checked
The old good news/bad news joke applies here. Remember the dentist that said,"Your teeth are perfect but, your gums have got to go". You may have a perfect roof but if the gutters are clogged, have pulled away from the building, have split seams or have downspouts that have come loose, you are likely to have problems. Gutter repairs are usually quite modest but failure to make them can be quite costly.
Examine Trees and Plants For Needed Trimming
Branches, which encroach on your roof and/or balconies, should be trimmed annually or as needed. Leaves on the roof and in gutters alter or inhibit the designed flow of water and can cause water intrusion into units. Overgrown trees or plants can damage window screens and are a harbor for bugs.
Have Your Sump Pump Checked
If you have below grade parking or a basement you probably have a sump pump whose job it is to remove water and keep it from pooling. Flooding not only can damage the structure but wreaks havoc with personal property that may be in the area. During the dry months, dirt and other debris can accumulate to inhibit the proper functioning of the devise. The electrical wires can become loose or severed. To test, take a garden hose and run water directly into the drain to which the pump is connected. You will know right away whether it is working or not. It is advisable to have your gardener run water into the sump pump pit each time they visit the property. This will alleviate the smell of stagnant water and will insure continual operation of the device.
Have Your Magnesite Decks/Walkways Checked
Cracks and chips in magnesite decking should be repaired and sealed. Water leaks, which penetrate magnesite, can among other things damage the wood frame members underneath causing dry rot, which can spread and in extreme cases compromise the structural safety of the support system.
Have Your Weather-Proofing Checked
Check the weather proofing around doors and windows. Leaks at these points usually cause expensive interior damage to ceilings, walls and flooring.
Have Your Wall Furnaces and Gas Appliances Checked
The gas company will do this free and will actually do some types of repairs, however the actual tenant must request the service. The heaters have to be turned on, of course, to be checked.
NON-RAINY SEASON PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE
If you perform all you other annual preventative maintenance items prior to the rainy season as well, you will not have difficulty remembering when you last checked something and you are more likely to avoid letting things go. Rather than saying, "The rainy season is coming. It's time to check the roof". Instead say, "the rainy season is coming. It's time to perform preventative maintenance".
Buildings vary so, no list can be complete for each one. Here are some additional common recommendations.
Drain Your Hot Water Heater
This will help remove deposits from the bottom of the heater, which will corrode, and rust out the heater prematurely if left indefinitely. Also, check to see if the heater is leaking.
Check for Plumbing Leaks Under the Building
Have a plumber crawl under the building looking for problems. Early detection will not only reduce your water bills but also reduce the damage from dry rot and possibly the M word (mold).
Check Inside the Units
While more frequent inspections would be good, at least annually go through your units. Check the smoke detectors for proper operation. Check for plumbing leaks, tubs and showers that need caulking, running toilets, dripping faucets, the wax seals around toilets, and walls, windows and ceilings evidencing leaks. Test for drains that are slow to eliminate water. Run the garbage disposal and dishwasher, if you have them. Replacing the toilet flappers which cost about $2 plus labor is better than having running toilets for months that nobody bothers to tell you about. You also may make some new friends (people who you didn't know were living at the property) and/or find unauthorized appliance installations. Replace any plastic toilet flex connectors with those made of metal. Plastic connectors more frequently break and when they do can cause a flood.
Rooter the Common Drain Lines
With the fear of mold about, cleaning up properly after a big sewage back up is a very costly proposition. The best bet is to take steps to avoid big back-ups by regularly rootering the common lines. Call a rooter man for a bid. When a back up is reported after hours, attack it immediately. Don't try to avoid the overtime charges by letting it go until the morning. This can be a costly gamble. From time-to-time give your tenants a reminder in writing what not to put into disposals. Doing it once and/or common sense are not enough. Ask your rooter man for tips.
Are any signs missing that you had posted? Pool or other safety, hazardous materials, no parking, etc. signs have a way of disappearing.
Check Parking Areas
Look for debris, grease/oil spots, and unauthorized storage and/or vehicles. Look for evidence of leaks in the garage ceiling or walls.
Clean Out Dryer Vents
Another inexpensive thing to do but possibly costly if not done. This can create a fire hazard if let go.
Check the Common Area Electrical Fixtures
Look for burned out lights and exit signs. If you’re lucky they only need a bulb. Consider equipping the outside lights on photocells instead of timers. The retrofit will pay for itself in lower utility bills, decreasing the cost to change timers regularly and will make the property safer for pedestrians and will be one less thing that you have to think about.
Check for Needed Touch-Up Painting
All wood surfaces do not need painting or staining at the same time. Different exposure to the elements or patterns of use dictates more frequent attention in some areas. Failure to treat wood when needed will result in unnecessary and possibly costly damage.
Check Walkways and Driveways
Look for cracks and uneven surfaces. Repair to avoid trip hazards and leaks. Deal with problem tree roots sooner rather than later. Owners may incur shared liability with the City for trips occurring on City sidewalks in front of a property.
These items may seem costly and time consuming. My experience suggests that it is more costly to let crises determine your maintenance program. If you still aren't convinced and won't do everything, at least prioritize. Do the things which if not done will cause the most expensive damage. Translated, anything having anything to do with water, mold, fire or health and safety. Also, attend to the problems, which occur most frequently at a particular building. For those inspections that you can't or don't want to do yourself, prepare a checklist and save money by having one qualified person perform as many of the inspections at one time as possible. This will be cheaper than hiring a variety of separate trades on a piece-meal basis.
No one can know or think of everything. If I missed something let me know. Perhaps the next article will be "Things I Missed and Don't Know". E-mail me at Wes@Wellmanproperties.com.
Happy New Year from Sacramento
Assembly Bill 2330, aka The Migden Bill, was passed by the California Legislature last year and took effect January 1, 2003. This article will deal with provisions of the bill relating to Security Deposits.
The new law does the following:
1. Redefines security deposit to include any charges imposed at the beginning of a tenancy, including costs associated with processing a new tenant, and costs associated with cleaning the property to restore it to the same condition it was in at the inception of the tenancy.
2. Requires the landlord to pay interest to the tenant on any security held for more than 6 months. This provision does not apply in any city or county that has its own security deposit law. Thanks to Rosario Perry Santa Monica owners don't have to worry about this for a while.
3. Redefines "ordinary wear and tear" as a basis for deduction from the security deposit to "repair of damages to the premises caused by the tenant or by a guest or licensee of the tenant". An owner may not deduct for deterioration that occurs through everyday usage, which includes, but is not limited to, deterioration that is rectified by routine painting, carpet replacement, or other repairs. For deductions to be allowable they must represent unusual damage caused by tenant abuse or carelessness. If a landlord claims a tenant is liable for damages beyond ordinary wear and tear, the landlord bears the burden of proof of the claim.
4. Requires the owner to make an initial inspection of the property soon after getting notice from a tenant of his/her intention to terminate the tenancy, allowing the tenant the right to be present during the inspection and requires the owner to give to the tenant an itemized statement specifying any deductions from the security deposit the landlord intends to make.
The statement must include specifically required language from the new security deposit law. Action will have statements available which include these provisions. The statement must be given to the tenant, if the tenant is present for the inspection, or must be left inside the premises. Failure to make the notification or make the inspection and report shall result in the landlord forfeiting any claim on the security deposit.
5. Requires the landlord, within three weeks after the tenant has vacated the premises, to furnish the tenant, by personal delivery or by first-class mail, postage prepaid, to furnish the tenant with a copy of an itemized statement indicating the basis for, and the amount of, any security deposit received and the disposition of the security and must return any remaining portion of the security to the tenant. The owner may deduct for allowable charges in addition to those set forth in the initial statement given to the tenant if the additional items were not visible at the time of the inspection due to the tenant’s furnishings.
6. Changes the amount of statutory damages that a court can award for a bad faith claim or retention of the security deposit from $600 to twice the amount of the security. This can be in addition to actual damages and can be awarded by a court regardless of whether the injured party has specifically requested relief.
7. Imposes new requirements relative to the transfer of security deposits upon the sale, assignment, death, appointment of receiver or otherwise by the owner or the owner's agent. This will be discusses in more detail next month.
It is recommended that on all new tenancies, an initial walk-through of the premises be conducted with the new tenant and a form be completed and signed by the owner and the tenant detailing the condition of the various components of the unit. This will assist the owner in satisfying the burden of proof required for any deductions from the security deposit upon the termination of the tenancy. Action has forms for this purpose.
"...and as to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them."
If we include in the definition of rulers the current political powers and any others with wealth and the willingness to spend it in a political campaign, this quote pretty much sums up the last election in Santa Monica.
Three key issues dominated the local election. Proposition HH, aka Veritas, a plan to elect local council members from the neighborhood in which they live. Proposition II, SMRPH, a tenant-friendly condominium conversion initiative. Proposition JJ, the Living Wage initiative. All three initiatives lost.
Veritas, the plan to create a system of historical districts, and to elect a city council member in each was a noble intellectual and democratic exercise that was dead on arrival. Santa Monica for Renter’s Rights (SMRR) naturally opposed it as a challenge to its local political hegemony and the financial backing favoring the initiative was inadequate to mount even the most basic campaign.
The condominium conversion law not only lost, it got trounced. This despite the fact that similar versions of the law passed previously three times with more than 66% of the voters approving the measures. The first time a similar condominium conversion measure was on the ballot it was backed by SMRR and a $300,000 campaign bankrolled by one owner, Larry Kates. The next two times it passed with no campaign other than the SMRR endorsement. This time SMRR opposed the measure and there was essentially no money behind the campaign for it.
The most surprising result was the come from behind defeat of the Living Wage Initiative. Despite trailing by more than two to one in initial polling, an effective $600,000 campaign by the Dolphin Group, paid for by the hotel industry, caused the measure to suffer a narrow defeat. The Dolphin Group you may remember for creating the Willie Hortan ads that contributed to the demise of Michael Dukakis' presidential aspirations.
Sadly, had the Hotel Industry piggybacked its campaign with SMRPH and VERITAS both of these initiatives could have passed, which would have served the hotels’ “long-term” interests. But the Hotel Industry is new to Santa Monica politics and can be forgiven for being at the front end of their learning curve.
The changes in the newspaper industry have increased the importance of money in local campaigns. With the demise of the Evening Outlook and the elimination of the Westside section of the Los Angeles Times, the reach of the remaining local print and on-line chroniclers of local politics are pretty much limited to political junkies who usually have their minds made up on issues and, in any event, are a minute fraction of the local electorate. Thus the job of "educating" the voters on local issues is left to the direct mail pieces which fill out mail boxes in the last few weeks before the election.
The local police and firefighters unions played an important role in this campaign, as well. Continuing their mutually beneficial alliance with SMRR, they exchange their endorsements for money and benefits from the soft-on-crime City Council. Despite the problems caused by the homeless population in Santa Monica being the number one issue with voters, our guardians of public safety, most of whom do not live in the City, have personal priorities that outweigh community concerns.
In Santa Monica elections, you get what you pay for.
If the rental housing industry could pick the last place it would want a public relations nightmare to occur, it would be Sacramento. But thanks to a Japaneese billionaire named Gensiro Kawamoto, that is exactly what we have.
Some years age Kawamoto built hundreds of single family homes in the suburbs of Sacramento which he has been renting ever since.
Recently, in a blunder of gigantic proportion, he delivered eviction notices to tenants in 570 houses simultaneously, announcing his intention to leave the rental business and sell the houses. This precipitated a backlash of invective from tenants, tenants' rights activists, media, and local and state governmental officials.
The story, as chronicled in the Sacramento Bee, twists and turns like a Balzac novel. It all starts in early February with Notices to Quit going out to 570 homes. Governmental officials began pondering what they could do in response. A state senator proposed legislation that would require landlords to give teants sixty days notice prior to eviction. (Due to the Kuehl bill this requirement is already in force in Santa Monica, West Hollywoood and Los Angeles.) Local officials proposed relocations fees on landlords evicting tenants. Governor Gray Davis sent a letter of protest to the Japanese government and asked for their help. State Senator Debra Ortiz proposed legislation that would extend the affected tenants leases by one year.
Kawamoto began a public relations offensive in Sacramento portraying his virtues and creating a plan to assist tenants to purchase their homes. In a naive plea for sympathy, he said that although he is a billionaire, he needed the money. The local apartment association went into damage control mode. It denounced the actions of the foreign tycoon and asked other local landlords to waive fees and to offer the first month's rent-free to evicted tenants.
Tenants, many of whom were young professionals, mounted their own media campaign. Kawamoto was said to have once complained to Forbes Magazine that they had underestimated his wealth and was also said to have angered residents of Honolulu by purchasing houses there while refusing to exit his Rolls Royce. Tenants cited the hardships of finding comparable housing in the tight rental market, decried the non-responsiveness of the owner's revolving door of management companies, but had to concede that they had enjoyed below market rents for many years. A "service and action fair" was held at a local community center for tenants to seek help form local attorneys, lenders and landlords.
A lawsuit was filed to stay the evictions, in response to which Kawamoto gave tenants who had not moved 90 more days to relocate. Meanwhile, with millions of dollars of commissions at stake, local brokers began walking a public relations tightrope by courting the owner for the listings on the houses while attempting to avoid sinking in the quick sand of negative publicity surrounding the story. In the "better rich than smart" category a local broker commented after Kawamote locked himself in the brokerage company's bathroom, " He's a billionaire and can't undo a simple lock".
A proposal by a local development company to buy the entire portfolio of houses, presumably at a discount, was rejected by the owner. (Darwinian rules can always count on Developer A to attempt to capitalize on the woes of Developer B.) But efforts by a non-profit housing concern to purchase 80 of the houses in on going. (Were non-profit housing groups in existence in Darwin's day?)
The story is still unfolding. but the ending will not be a happy one for the rental housing industry. We have read and lived this story before with a different cast of characters. A shortage of housing, occasioned by governmental obstacles and community opposition to development, combined with a strong economy leads to rising rents primarily on vacant units which people principally notice and oppose when they are forced from the comfort of a below market rental. Tenant activists are reenergized by an unsympathetic villain, in this case a foreign billionaire, and are abetted by a ready, willing and politically kindred media. Government officials quickly count heads and find many more renters than owners and bingo, restrictive legislation results, which, of course, exacerbates the problem in the long run. But most elected officials concern for the long run is limited to their pensions and other benefits.
What is particularly troubling about this crisis, is that, although it involves a blip on the screen of the totality of the state's housing, it is happening in the back yard of the State Legislature where policy can be made affecting the rental housing industry throughout California. But due to the housing shortage and rising rents the only question was not why did this happen, but when would it?
COVER YOUR ASSETS
Attorneys have collected over $10.6 million dollars in less than two years settling claims against business owners, including apartment owners, for alleged violations of the Notice Requirements of Proposition 65, The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. This article will discuss how to reduce your risk of being a target of a claim of this type.
Proposition 65 requires that businesses provide notification to individuals about exposures to carcinogens and reproductive toxins. Aspects of residential rental property that may require warnings include: exhaust fumes in parking garages, lead based paint, asbestos, plumbing fixtures, pesticides, building materials, carpeting, and environmental tobacco smoke.
The regulations do not require the use of a particular warning method or specific warning language, so long as the warning meets the "clear and reasonable" standard: the message must "clearly communicate that the chemical in question is known to the state to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm" and the method employed to transmit the warning must be reasonably calculated, considering the alternative methods available under the circumstances, to make the warning message available to the individual prior to exposure".
The regulations further provide that: "environmental exposure warnings shall be provided in a conspicuous manner and under such conditions as to make it likely to be read, seen or heard and understood by an ordinary individual in the course of normal daily activity, and reasonably associated with the location and source of exposure.
The California Apartment Association (CAA) has developed two tools to assist apartment owners with complying with the notice requirements of Proposition 65. The first is a warning sign, which is 10" X 10" and is made of all weather PVC with pre-drilled holes for mounting. They are white with black ink. CAA recommends that, at a minimum, signs be posted at all entrances to the property and in all common areas of the property, including parking garages. The Warning signs read as follows: "WARNING: This area contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm". These signs are available through the Action office for $3 plus postage. To place an order call 310-828-7628.
To explain to residents why the warning signs have been posted, CAA has developed a second tool; a sample letter to your residents. A copy of the letter appears adjacent to this article. In addition to the letter, CAA suggests that you provide a copy of a background paper entitled "Proposition 65 in Plain Language," produced by the State Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The background paper can be downloaded free under the members only section of www.action-wam.com.
Violations of Proposition 65 are punishable by civil penalties of up to $2500 per day, per violation. Here is some background on how claims happen and are resolved. Proposition 65 allows enforcement by not only the specific governmental agencies but in addition "by any person in the public interest", read attorneys. What typically happens is an owner is served with a Notice of Violation for failing to properly notice an alleged violation. The burden is then on the defendant (the owner) to show that the exposure is at a level that poses "no significant risk" and has "no observable effect". The owner may then have to fund an exposure assessment to demonstrate that the actual exposure level is below a "no significant risk level". This, of course, creates great pressure to settle lawsuits, regardless of the actual expose levels at issue.
There is a little good news in this whole scenario. The notice requirements of Proposition 65 exempt persons employing fewer than 10 employees in his or her business. Thus, many small owners are exempt. However, it the property is managed by a company to which the law applies, notification may still be necessary. Additionally, it may be advisable to post even though you think the law does not apply to you. It can be very cheap insurance.
This article is based on a Background Paper prepared by the California Apartment Association, which may be accessed in full at www.ca-apartment.org.
VERITAS INIATIVE HEADED FOR THE BALLOT
On November 26, 2001 sponsors of the VERITAS election reform charter amendment submitted 12,952 signatures to the City Clerk. This represents a number well in excess of the 9,039 signatures required. Knowing the meticulous nature of this movements' apparachixs, I expect there is no question of their having sufficient valid signatures to qualify the imitative for the ballot.
This measure divides the city into seven council districts, each of which, would elect it's own city council representative and also provides for a citywide election of the mayor. This would replace the current system of at-large elections of all council members and election of the mayor by the city council.
When VERITAS will be put on the ballot is not known at the time of this writing. It may be during the Nov., 2002 general election or during a separate special election. This decision will be made by the City Council.
Since Santa Monica for Renters Rights will view this measure as a serious threat to its local political hegemony, expect the gloves to come off and a bare-knuckle brawl to erupt. The "landlord plot to destroy rent control" conspiracy theories are ready to be put back into service after a too short hiatus. If the war in Afghanistan wasn't enough to satisfy your thirst for conflict, stay tuned.
BREAKING WAR NEWS
I enjoy the special wartime vocabulary that members of the administration and the news media use. Just for kicks I will try to write a few hypothetical lines to include a few of my favorite terms. Here goes.
American infidels and their surrogates have sent military assets to the Afgan Theater. Air power has deployed substantial ordinance designed to assist boots on the ground but has resulted in remarkably little collateral damage. Special Ops have provided close-up support for local warlords in penetrating Taliban strongholds and rooting out Taliban strongmen. CIA operatives are known to be involved in covert operations. Meanwhile an UN brokered peace process in under way in an attempt to craft a post-Taliban governmental accord. The success of the war effort militarily is the result of America's air superiority but the success diplomatically springs from the disparate coalition that has been cobbled together by the USA diplomatic team. With the fall of Taliban control over most of Afghanistan complete, Rummy reports that efforts are now underway to confront the compound housing Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. This campaign is being directed from the Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
President Bush, with his 90% approval rating, and Vice-President Chaney, in his secure location, can be applauded for strong but measured leadership. The adults are once again in charge in this country. Americans everywhere have united behind the War on Terrorism, except in Berkeley.
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Santa Monica's political rulers of the last two decades will go down as lead contractors. They championed a rent control system ostensibly to keep rents affordable for the needy and to maintain a mix of disparate social classes in the community. While it did keep rents low for in-place renters, when they moved, as most have done, the low rent apartments that they vacated were rented to a homogeneous group of upwardly mobile, affluent yuppies. Due to artificially low rent payments, these rich young people spent freely at local businesses fueling a retail renaissance that transformed Santa Monica's stores from a collection of low-key neighborhood serving concerns to an upscale mix of coffee houses, restaurants, boutiques, consumer goods and entertainment venues. This in turn fueled further gentrification in housing as it became not only cheap but trendy to live here.
Our leadership was always quick to condemn housing developers for greed and for the traffic impact of their proposed projects. Meanwhile, to accomplish its social agenda, the city's political cabal needed more tax revenues. So, it encouraged hotel and commercial development. Now, Santa Monica's evening population of some 80,000 swells to over 250,000 during the day, as we have become one of the regions key business centers. The traffic patters of prior decades have reversed with the strange spectacle of bumper-to-bumper traffic coming into Santa Monica in the morning and leaving in the evening with clear sailing downtown and back during the same periods. Meanwhile, local traffic congestion has become an annoying fact of life.
Now comes yet another chapter in the history of Santa Monica's social engineering; the Living Wage Ordinance. Think of this as rent control on Viagra. Rent control was to keep rents down while the Living Wage Ordinance is to get wages up. Both are supposedly aimed to help the poor. Under this new legislation, affected businesses in the Coastal Zone would have to pay workers without health benefits at least $13 per hour instead of the current $6.25 per hour minimum wage.
But, governmental intervention in the market place inevitably has unintended consequences. The $13 per hour wage may be great for the current holders of low wage jobs. But what happens when they leave their current jobs, as most do, by moving up the economic ladder? Will other entry-level workers replace them? Not a chance. Just as, after rent control was imposed, cheap apartments weren't rented to the poor, these jobs will go to people with more education and skills and/or connections than today's low wageworkers.
Next time you dine at one of the coastal hotels, don't be surprised if you are greeted as follows: "Hi, my name is Biff and I'll be your busboy." Meanwhile, you wonder what became of Benito your previous busboy. Persons checking into their hotel room may be greeted with, " Hi, I'm Megan. I'll be you maid. Maria is no longer with us".
Political War Clouds Gather
For twenty-one years Santa Monica has been a community at war with itself. Like a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, the State Legislature stepped into the fray with the Costa-Hawkins Bill, which from 1996 until very recently caused the longest period of local quasi-tranquility that we have witnessed since 1978.
That interval of domestic calm seems near an end as several political developments combine in a combustible mix. Having achieved political dominance, Santa Monica for Renters Rights (SMRR) could not be content with making life miserable for landlords and felt compelled to impose its ideological will on hotels and restaurants with a Living Wage Ordinance. In so doing, they awakened a business community that had largely sat on the sidelines while SMRR and apartment owners duked it out for two decades. SMRR has political dominance, for now, but the business community is very prosperous and isn't led by people used to losing. SMRR has awakened a sleeping giant.
Meanwhile, SMRPH, a new condominium conversion initiative, has qualified for the next local ballot. While Costa Hawkins is on the books, SMRPH, if passed, is likely to have little economic or political effect locally. Should vacancy decontrol be eliminated or be significantly modified, conversion could be an important safety valve for apartment owners. SMRR bitterly opposed the first condominium conversion effort, the Home Initiative in 1986, then through political expediency supported the second-generation conversion initiative, TORCA, in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Since that time, its leaders have gone on record opposing conversion in general and SMRPH in particular. However, condo conversion as proposed in Santa Monica has been popular with tenants, posing a political problem for SMRR, causing it to be out of step with its constituency on a major issue.
Further complicating this picture, is VERITAS, an government reform initiative, which would change the election of local office holders from an at-large system to a district system, making it easier for an independent or minority candidate to gain office without the backing of a political machine. This is a potential threat to SMRR's hegemony. (For more information on VERITAS you can go to their web site at WWW.YESONVERITAS.ORG).
SMRR's fear of VERITAS prompted the laughable irony of a far-left City Council proposing an anti-free speech ordinance, to complicate grass roots signature gathering. The hurriedly composed ordinance would require signature gatherers to hand out information sheets which among other things will disclose who is sponsoring an initiative and will explain how to ask questions about it and how to rescind one's signature. It will also be a misdemeanor to fail to comply with the ordinance, allowing the City Attorney, the hired legal gun of the political (Council) majority, the ability to bring the resources and power of local government to bear on alleged violators. Since the initiative process is a tool of the citizens to check the power of the government, SMRR's intent is to make signature gathering more difficult. In so doing, SMRR joins a long list of other reactionary governments in selling out its ideals to protect its power. SMRR clearly doesn't want anyone misleading voters when signatures are gathered for initiatives the way it misleads voters in political campaigns when it misrepresents anything it opposes as a threat to rent control when often the matter has nothing whatsoever to do with rent control.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Living Wage Ordinance had been drafted, was approved by the Council on first reading and SMRR had the votes for approval, Councilman Genzer pulled it from the agenda when it was set for final approval, saying that he had more questions about it, after which he asked no questions nor discussed it further. One would assume this was a tactical delay, to allow the new signature gathering ordinance to be on the books prior to the Council approving the Living Wage Ordinance, making it more difficult for FAIR, a business group opposed to the measure, to gather the signatures necessary to qualify a referendum on the question, for which they would have thirty days to accomplish and which they have signaled their intention to do.
The initiative petition reform ordinance will likely be passed at the next City Council meeting, August 14, 2001. The Living Wage Ordinance is likely to be passed at the same meeting or within thirty days thereafter. After the passage of the Lining Wage Ordinance, things will really start to take off. A signature gathering effort will commence to put the measure before the voters. Sponsors will have thirty days to obtain the necessary signatures. Quite likely a lawsuit will be filed challenging the initiative petition reform ordinance on free speech grounds. Meanwhile Veritas sponsors will continue gathering signatures to qualify their measure for the ballot. Their deadline to submit 9,030 signatures is December 14, 2001.
When these matters will be voted upon is interesting. If Veritas qualifies for the ballot it calls for a special election within six months, at which time SMRPH, the condo conversion initiative, would also be voted upon. The City Council can, however, determine when the referendum on the Living Wage Ordinance is held, if it qualifies for the ballot. Look for politics to determine that. Put your money on the council scheduling the referendum for a different time than VERITAS and SMRPH to limit the likelihood of supporters of the three measures combining money and manpower.
While much remains to be seen as to how and what things will unfold from all of this, what is certain, is that the four years of peace that our community has enjoyed is ending and political war will soon break out once again.
ANNUAL GENERAL ADJUSTMENT APPROVED
The Santa Monica Rent Control Board has approved the 2001 Annual General Adjustment in rents of 4.5% per year with a cap of $43 per month. In recommending the increase the Board noted that residential electricity rates are scheduled to increase 37% when the new rates take effect, gas rates have increased over the last two years 56.9%, and water and refuse rates have also increased but by smaller percentages than gas or electricity rates.
Units rented between September 1, 2000 and August 2001 are not eligible for the 2001 general adjustment.
Master-Metered buildings were approved for a supplemental increase. If a landlord pays for all gas and electrical service for the common areas and, additionally, for all electrical service or all gas and electrical electrical service in individual units on the property, the landlord may increase the rent by an additional $10, in addition to the general adjustment.
By way of comparison 2001 Rent increases in other rent controlled Cities were as follows: Berkeley- $10, plus an additional $8 if the owner pays for all gas service to the rental unit; New York City- 3% for one-year leases and 5%for two year leases plus a $15 per unit supplement for apartments renting for $500 or less.
SMRPH, VERITAS AND NOW FAIR, BUT OPPOSED BY SMART
If one wants high pay and regular employment in the private sector in Santa Monica, landlord tenant law or political consulting is the best bets. The activist and extremist nature of Santa Monica Government guarantees constant litigation and political manuerving.
With the last election barely over, already two new ballot initiatives and a referendum are in various stages of action. SMRPH, the condominium conversion initiative has qualified for the next ballot. VERITAS, the governmental reform initiative, has signature gatherers on the street at this time in an effort to force a special election during which both SMRPH and VERITAS would go before the voters.
Now FAIR (Fighting Against Irresponsible Regulation), a coalition of hotel, restaurant and retail interests, has announced plans to gather signatures to force a referendum requiring the Living Wage Ordinance, recently passed by the Santa Monica Council, to be approved by the voters.
Samuel Johnson once described a second marriage as "the triumph of hope over experience". Proposition KK, last year's attempt by the hotel industry to water down the proposed Living Wage Ordinance and to prohibit the Council from making additional changes without a public vote, lost by a 4 to 1 margin and looks at this stage to be the political equivalent of a second marriage.
In an attempt to pass Prop KK, the hotel industry spent close to $1 million and received fewer than 8,000 votes.
FAIR is opposed by SMART (Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism). This is a coalition of the usual local left-wing political suspects spiced with some outside labor interests.
So its full employment for political consultants in Santa Monica and if FAIR loses, look for the attorneys to go to work on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Living Wage Ordinance. Perhaps, a deal could be cut wherein hotels and restaurants could continue to employ entry level workers at the $6.25 per hour minimum wage as long as the workers are either law or political science students.
TENANT RENT GOUGERS THREATENED
The New York Times reports that a New York City judge has ruled that landlords may evict tenants who charge roommates more than a fair share of the rent. The case involved an elderly tenant who was charging her roommate over 120% of her monthly rent in violation of a new state regulation on roommate overcharges.
Profiteering by tenants in low rent apartments is a common practice in Santa Monica as well. But, although the Santa Monica Rent Board brings the full force of the police state to bear to any owner guilty of overcharging tenants, I am unaware of any case ever brought against a tenant for overcharging a roommate.
Perhaps Santa Monica needs one more ballot initiative to deal with this issue, TART (Tenants Are Rentgougers Too).
Martin Snitow reports in the San Francisco Apartment Magazine that a Presa Canario-mastiff dog owned by one apartment tenant attacked another tenant in the same building. The attacked tenant soon died. Snitow says, "A landlord who knows a tenant's animal is dangerous is at risk for liability due to any injury or damage it causes. However, under certain conditions, the law requires a landlord to permit a tenant to keep an animal in a rental unit". So if you are aware of a dangerous dog in your building, better contact the attorney of your choice.
BUSTED IN BERKELEY
The Los Angeles Times reports that a Berkeley Landlord convicted of importing young females for sex and cheap labor filed papers claiming a "cultural defense". Attorney Ted Cassman asked a Judge to "consider that Lakireddy Bali Reddy is a product of a society" in which "the norms of his society were amenable to conduct which is clearly offensive in the U.S.".
He might have gone on to assert the "Berkeley Defense" that he is living in a city where the norms of mainstream society have never applied.
A Saint Paul, Minnesota newspaper refers to hi-tech renters who have lost their high paying internet related jobs, high rent apartments, and have moved from the area as dot.gones. At least you know that your dot.commers who left without paying the rent aren't in Minnesota.