East Palo Alto's new Rent Stabilization Program administrator, George Montano, has resigned less than two weeks after his introduction to the rent board, City Manager Magda Gonzalez has confirmed. The resignation is yet another blow for the rent program, which lost its longtime head, Carol Lamont, in May.
Lamont resigned in March to protest an unflattering audit of her program commissioned by Gonzalez. The consultant's audit accused her of bias in favor of tenants. Rent Stabilization Board and City Council members, residents and tenants' groups blasted the audit as a "hit piece" on Lamont. The audit interviewed only two of the city's largest landlords and no tenants about Lamont's performance, city documents show.
Montano, a housing and redevelopment manager for the city of Hawaiian Gardens in southern California, was introduced to the rent board at its July 9 meeting as the new administrator. But less than two weeks later, he resigned, according to a staff memo provided to the Weekly.
Montano could not be reached for comment. During questioning by rent board members during the meeting, he was asked if he understood the community climate in East Palo Alto regarding the rent program. He steadfastly maintained that he would not be bent by his boss -- the city manager -- regarding how to administer the program.
Gonzalez came under fire for the audit and for a set of emails between her and the city's largest landlord, Equity Residential, that purportedly showed she was biased in favor of landlords. As a result, on July 14, dozens of residents demanded her termination prior to a City Council closed session during which council members discussed Gonzalez's contract. Gonzalez maintains that she supports the rent ordinance and denies any special consideration for landlords.
But the council announced the next day, July 15, that it plans to seek a new manager rather than renew Gonzalez's contract, which ends on Oct. 21.
More fallout followed the next day. Rent board Vice Chair Christopher Peter, an Equity Residential representative, was notified that he was deemed to have resigned for missing too many meetings, Montano noted in a memo prepared for the board's July 23 meeting. A member of an advisory board who misses more than three consecutive regular meetings or 25 percent of an advisory body's meetings in a calendar year is considered to have resigned, according to East Palo Alto municipal code.
The board was to elect a new vice chair on Wednesday, but the meeting was canceled due to Montano's resignation and the unavailability of city staff to conduct the meeting, according to a city memo.
Gonzalez is looking at options for Montano's replacement, she said in an email to the Weekly on Wednesday.
"I am interested in filling the position as soon as possible," she wrote.