Property and Privilege

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Dear Readers,

Something extraordinary happened at the July 10 City Council meeting and I do not want it to be missed, misunderstood, or forgotten.

The Council was considering Action Item A-1, to delay the deadline for landlords to submit information on residential properties to the City’s rental registry and to consider limiting public access. This item was put on the agenda by Mayor Albert Vera Jr. and Council Members Göran Eriksson and Dan O’Brien in response to complaints from landlords and their organizations about CCRentals.org, a portal Stephen Jones created to facilitate access to rental registry data.

Their objections were baseless, since Jones did not publish any information the City had not; he just constructed a more accessible and useful search form for the same file. Nevertheless, landlords and their lobbyists used his work as a pretext to subvert the renter protections passed in 2020. The rental registry is necessary for the City to enforce rent control. Making it public reduces the power imbalance between landlords and renters and enables activists and social scientists to better understand the housing market. It also creates greater accountability for landlords. Shelter is a basic human need, but landlords are not required to have any special training or licensing. 

Vera and Eriksson opposed the City establishing rent control and tenant protections in the first place and supported Measure B, which would have repealed rent control. Both of their campaigns were backed by the California Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (the people who brought us Proposition 13). Now that they had a Council majority, they seemed poised to start undermining the progress many of us had fought hard for.

However, preparing for the meeting, I checked the rental properties Mayor Vera listed on his Form 700 financial disclosure against the listings on CCRentals.org and found that he had never registered them. Stephen Jones raised this issue in public comment at the July 10 meeting, and Vera explained that he was discussing with the City Attorney how to address the problem. I followed up that he should not be participating in a meeting revising a law which he was not complying with and asked why he was receiving special treatment from the City Attorney. The City Attorney denied that he was getting special treatment, but suggested he could recuse himself and leave the room to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. He did, and the vote was tied, which meant the item failed.

Vera was right to leave the room, but this item should not have been on the agenda in the first place. A majority of the Council needs to agree to hear an item, and he was one of the “three nodding heads” for this one. It was not ethical for him to participate in that discussion or vote either.

I do not know when Vera realized he was violating the rental registry law. It has been in effect for several years, and every landlord has received multiple print and electronic notices to register. However, it is clear that, once Vera understood he was breaking the law, instead of registering his properties as required he contacted the City Attorney to ask to be excused. She did not tell him that he was subject to the law like anyone else but allowed him to remain in violation, as if some sort of exception might be possible, and gave him personal legal advice, as if what is good for the Mayor is good for the City. If that is not special treatment, I don’t know what is. This was a man born into wealth and power using his privilege to seek an exemption from a clear legal requirement and a modest fee and to have this request taken far more seriously than it deserved.

On July 10th, Albert Vera Jr. attempted to preside over and participate in a discussion and vote to weaken a law that he knew he was breaking and was attempting to be allowed to evade. That is a remarkable transgression which should haunt the remainder of his career in public life, if it does not end it. 

I don’t think it’s enough that he eventually yielded to criticism and left the Mayor’s desk or that he has subsequently registered his properties. His time in office has been saturated with conflicts of interest. We have seen him vote for the contract governing his daughter’s employment with the City, her department’s funding, and the hiring of her department head, on regulations directly affecting his businesses, and on the City’s relationships with organizations on whose boards he has served. He has also used his elected office to promote his private business. The habits acquired from the privileges accompanying inherited wealth are not compatible with the ethical requirements of public service.