Friday, April 11, 2014

Rental Ordinance Proposal Possibly Before City Council - 21 April

The City Council is likely to have a proposal on rental health and safety from the Mayor for consideration and discussion at the 1030am Planning Committee meeting on 21 April.  As with all agenda items, the public will not see the proposal until the council meeting agenda appears on 17 April.  As usual, last minute agenda modifications could throw the rental ordinance proposal into a later council session.  The next available council meeting would be on 5 May. 

According to Jack Weiss, the head of the Planning Committee, "This meeting will be for presentation and an introductory line of questions by the committee only."   This is not an unusual way of business but I would like to see eventually the public providing input during the committee's work sessions as was done last year when the council was debating a proposal from Councilman Weiss.

Earlier this year, the Mayor and her staff presented the outline of a rental inspection and "registration" program that received a lot of negative feedback.  I reviewed that proposed framework in a blog entry in early February entitled "Mayor's Rental Health and Safety Proposal Inadequate."  Fortunately, that proposal met some opposition and the Mayor and her staff went back to the drawing board.   Without going into details, any proposal that does not contain an active program of periodic inspections of rentals by the city is a problematic exercise.  Complaint-based systems simply do not work.  We know that through a CDC study and, moreover, by sad experience here in Bellingham where the present complaint-based system is a dismal failure. 

In an email to Councilman Weiss I lamented the timing of the Mayor's submission.  This serious effort to produce an ordinance comes up in late spring and summer, just as the academic year ends and the largest represented group of renters leaves town.  I wrote:

"This [the timing] deprives them [students] of a voice at a most critical moment and it deprives the mayor and the council of valuable feedback from the very people who will have to live with the consequences of whatever is brought forward.

Consequently, I would recommend that you continue the practice from previous Planning Committee meetings at which you welcomed comments from the public during the committee work sessions.  At least this will provide some opportunity for students and their reps to front load their views on whatever proposal is brought forward before final exams and the summer are upon them."

In any event, keep the date "21 April" open for the committee meeting at 10:30am in City Council chambers.  I will provide my readers a copy of the agenda bill on rentals next Thursday.

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