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East Palo Alto rent-control manager resigns after audit

Original post made on Mar 19, 2014

The manager of East Palo Alto's rent-control program tendered her resignation on March 12 after telling the Rent Stabilization Board that the program had been audited.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:59 AM

Comments (38)

Posted by You neighborhood spiderman, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

If there is an audit it should be without nobody knowing to over see what's really is going on otherwise it gives time to hide all wrong doings. What's the purpose of an audit?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2014 at 10:27 am

> What's the purpose of an audit?

Hard to say these days ... aha, maybe it's to figure out how much they need to take extra from the working people in taxes, after the fact ? ;-)

Posted by Goolrukh Vakil, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2014 at 11:46 am

First, let's correct the first reader's comment to say: "if there is an audit, it should be without ANYBODY knowing . . . ."
Second, it is easy to read a definition of the word "audit" on Google. One can also read an audit's purpose and objectives. An audit is not a secret process, but it has to be done by an independent body for reasons that its definition makes obvious. Often it "catches" a person or department in an unethical or illegal activity; however, it is also a routine and sensible procedure.

East Palo Alto needs a board to oversee landlord-tenant issues. I value Ms. Lamont's hard work, dedication, and support of the board's work and landlord-tenant matters. The process of a secret and unannounced audit is in itself suspicious, unethical act. It may also be a legally doubtful act by an office not authorized to conduct this act, and in secrecy. I support its investigation and applaud the city council for needing its transparency now.

Posted by mutti, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm

So who did the audit? Private CPA or government agency? What were the findings? What triggered the audit -- complaints of ethical or financial wrong-doing? Why were only 2 board members interviewed for the audit? How many people are on the Rent Stabilization Board? These are just a few of my questions. I hope there will be another article when the Weekly gets a copy of the audit. (I live in PA, but work in EPA, so have many interests there.)

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

mutti- the answers to some of your questions are online, about the board, the ordinance and who its members are. The other questions you ask are very good ones.

I suspect that the city manager ordered the audit because she's a [portion removed] employer who is likely against rent stabilization. I'm curious about her, her husband, his profession, any relatives she may have involved in real estate or real estate investing/development, and why she audited this particular department. It does make sense for the city attorney to oversee the department, instead of the city manager, as board member Dorn said in the article.

The City of East Palo Alto has been incredibly lucky to have Carol Lamont oversee the Rent Stabilization Program. Not only does she have an impeccable reputation in the Bay Area, she has worked wonders on behalf of the landlords and tenants of East Palo Alto. I have a number of neighbors who were well guided by her. I have heard landlords commend her, as the implementation of the updated ordinance was confusing for some and they needed assistance to ensure correct compliance. In my interactions with her and the her assistant, I have nothing but appreciation and praise for what they've done with so little.

City Manager Gonzalez has made a gigantic mistake in setting her sights on Lamont (reading between the lines here). I wouldn't be surprised if legal action results from the the city manager's behavior. If it doesn't happen with Lamont, it's sure to happen with another employee.

Residents of our town need to remember a couple of crucial things:

-We're merely a stepping stone for Magda Gonzalez's career.

[Portion removed.]

-She doesn't live in East Palo Alto and therefore has little actual knowledge or reference to rent stabilization and how to run its program.

-Her career agenda likely doesn't dovetail with maintaining East Palo Alto as a place that's affordable to live. This requires a delicate balance that she is likely disinterested in, incapable of executing, or both.

-Given the grumblings and distrust about her, I suspect she shined on those she interviewed with for the city manage role, and now we're seeing the real Magda Gonzalez.

Posted by Why?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Why does EPA have rent control everywhere but in mobile-home parks and PA have rent control only in the BV mobile-home park? This makes no sense IMO.

Posted by question, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Sounds Like Somebody Is Finally Rocking The Boat In A Dysfunctional City Government Where The Officials Are Use To The "Norm." Good Job Gonzalez!

Posted by mary brown, a resident of University South
on Mar 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

mary brown is a registered user.

I had the privilege of reading the "Review" of East Palo Alto's rent stabilization program. I would like to note several of my observations of the report, citizens' posts here, and in general:-

* A citizen from Palo Verde (note: does not live in EPA--walk in our shoes first) calls EPA's a dysfunctional government. Historically home of some of the lowest SES citizens, and now home to one of the larger groups of less-educated immigrants, the Palo Verde resident should be ashamed of him/herself for putting-down a small, poor city. We do pretty well all things considered--Stanford Law for one has faith in us and we are grateful for their support both financially and in concrete legal assistance. Their office has fought many battles for poor tenants.

* I am "always" (:)) suspicious of anyone or any report or paper that uses absolutes such as "should" or "never." I wish the consultant had used contextually-appropriate language and covered grey areas rather than being black-white.

* I was surprised that it has been only what, 4-5 years? since the current rent stabilization ordinance has been in effect, and that long since Ms. Lamont has been its Administrator. Give it a chance. Why did the City Manager initiate this review so shortly, a few months, after her own appointment? Thus, as the reader Mmmmm says, she has done a copious amount of work and revenue collected due to her and her Housing Assistant with limited resources and time. Was this work not necessary to get the ordinance to a start? Under similar circumstances, could someone else have done a better job? Maybe, maybe not. That is not the issue. The issue is that a new and much-needed ordinance is being attacked instead of supported.

* Hooray for the EPA resident named "Mmmm." He/she bravely questioned the City Manager's non-EPA residential status, impetus to conduct this review, her potential interests in the city outside of her position, the legality of targeting this board and why, and so on. I suppose when a boss makes public her complaint of her employee being uncooperative or whatever, as the review definitely implies, it perhaps reflects more on the boss. If this is in the report, it came from the City Manager; and it is not in the report that the Administrator complained to the auditor anything about the City Manager, showing the Administrator's prudence and professionalism--I am sure the dynamics/dysfunction between them was a 2-way street and the Administrator had complaints about her boss too. In any event, this complaint, because it is now public, almost constitutes slander and is perhaps why the Administrator quit.

* If this Administrator is what Mmmmm says she is, I would suggest to her that she stay on and complete the work. Granted, there were, from an outside perspective, seemingly reasonable and valid suggestions in the review and grace would dictate that these be considered and these changes made by staying on and showing good faith in continuing the good work.

* The rent ordinance matters in this small and relatively poor (compare to Palo Alto!) city seem dauntingly difficult. EPA needs this ordinance. Whether Ms. Lamont leaves, or a new Administrator arrives, or whatever the political or legal outcome of this entire unfortunate matter will be, the existence of the rent Board and the program seems to be in jeopardy. It is troublesome that the bulk of the revenue came from one large landlord settlement--how will the program finance itself from here on seems to be the more crucial issue right now for any Administrator, the rent Board, and the City Council to consider.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Mary Brown - how does one obtain a copy of this audit? Is it on the city's website yet?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

To Why and the editors - East Palo Alto *does* have a rent stabilization ordinance for mobile home parks.

Posted by Joey , a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2014 at 10:50 am

Rent control needs to be squashed in East Palo Alto, rename the City to Ravenswood and hike up the taxes. The gentrification process will take less than 10 years.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by mary brown, a resident of University South
on Mar 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm

mary brown is a registered user.

Hi Mmmmm. Perhaps the Review is on the city website by now. I had some inside help in reading it.
And to Joey, like it or not, rent control is here to stay in EPA. However, if enough yuppies rent here (and there are more and more), then they may have the voting majority. But then, since it sounds like you have a lot of money, you could distribute it to the poor as a bribe to leave EPA to you and your kind. Then, you could do your own house cleaning, gardening, and picture-hanging--and it would be good for your soul too. Then, you would not have the color of Feliz Navidad, the hip hop walk of the young cool African Americans, the laughter of low income children around barbeques and playing ball on the streets. But you would have manicured yards, locked BMWs driving by (and not stopping at stop signs), and elegant block parties--all in sterile mode. Or, you could stay and mix, and help your fellow neighbor to better citizenship. It will be interesting to see where EPA is in your "10 years."

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm

It's long past time for EPA to terminate its rent control policies. There is not one community in the world that has rent control, and can be shown to thrive.

Crime, poverty, and rent control--all go hand-in-hand.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Well, Joe, the voters disagree with you. Of course, if Wells Fargo hadn't screwed up by selling a massive amount of housing to just one landlord, there wouldn't be so much rent control here. Since there's a vacancy decontrol ordinance, market rate rents have hit this town pretty quick.

Posted by question, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 20, 2014 at 5:30 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by aaa, a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Stanford Law Clinics does a over the limit work and overwhelm the mom and pop small property owners. Small property owners do not evict the tenants unless they dont pay the rent or notoriously paying late month after month. Rent money comes in 1 pocket and goes out the other pocket to pay bills. New rent control was passed with less than or approximate of 800 people votes, not overwhelmingly as claimed by the city of e palo alto of 79%. rent administrator is totally bias to the landlords, not being impartial. Rent Admnstr called the Govrnmt branches first to do the entire building audit instead of working with the landlords which in turn creates extreme tension between the tenants and landlords. This creates tenants and landlords to become enemy. Tenants often fail to be truthful if not out right lie about the problems they have. Rent Admnstr pushes tenants to do unnecessary petitions even though tenants didnt want to do it. Rent admnstr abuses her position, often uses her position to intimidate and threaten to audit the landlord's building if she doesnt get her way. Rent administrator threatened the landlords to suspend the whole building rent payment if landlord will not agree with her.

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Mar 20, 2014 at 7:46 pm

The above comment might be interesting or helpful if it was coherent. I've heard some disturbing tales about landlords in East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park from people at Standord. Mostly, the complaints are about the landlord/property manager problems in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. But at least in East Palo Alto tenants have somewhere to get assistance and so do the landlords who are honest.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 21, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I'd love to see some of Joe's evidence for what he asserts. East Palo Alto long had crime before rent control. The majority of rent control is in the most densely populated area of the city, where the crime rate is lower, too.

Posted by Cymande, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 21, 2014 at 8:27 pm

First, in response to Joe, who said that there is no city in the world that can thrive with rent control: the cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica would be surprised to hear your claim.

I am just learning of what has occurred, and as someone who has been a housing activist in East Palo Alto since before there was a City of East Palo Alto, a municipal department head for the City in the past, and a public official for the City, I am flabbergasted at the outrageous action taken by City Manager Gonzalez in conducting an "audit" targeted at only one department, before she has even really gotten to know the department heads like Carol Lamont who report to her, and so soon after her arrival. In and of itself, that raises extreme alarm bells. It suggests incompetent management, since she is making change before she has any idea about the possible impacts. This strikes me as similar to her ridiculous idea to try save the City money by transferring the Police responsibility back to San Mateo County, which was rightfully beaten back by our community. With this latest action, Ms. Gonzales has demonstrated that she clearly has no respect or regard for the two foundational policy pillars on which our City was founded: permanently affordable rental housing and self-policing free from the racist hammer of the San Mateo County Sheriff's office. She also clearly has no respect for the City Council who authorizes her paycheck, that she would fail to disclose such an action before undertaking it. The combination of these two recent actions demonstrates that she is not fit to be the Manager of this great City.

Posted by aaa, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

Carol Lamont did not work wonder for both landlords and tenants, she injected bad blood, created "enemy environment" between landlords and tenants. She has blown up non-issue into unsolvable issue for landlords. Carol Lamont is totally NOT impartial, she abuses her position, period. Here is one thing, Let the rent board collect the half of the 'so called Rent Registration fees' of $23.75 or what ever the amount is, It has been so hard to collect rent registration fees from tenants, why do landlords have to collect them and confront with hostilities from tenants. Isn't Rent Board's job to collect this if it wanted to be funded? here is another thing. why was that Joey was asked to contribute some money? (Joey: stay your ground, lots of people are with you.) . don't you think it is time handouts needed to be stopped. I am amazed by some people keep asking this kind of entitlements or 'give me some money' attitude. Everyone needs to work, not being contributed with handouts. Hip Hop Walk belongs to stage or on TV, balls must be played in the ball field, not on the street. Kids need to go to school and do home works, if home works is done, do it again and review the last week or previous week home work, we don't let our kids play on the street. Citizens must work and pay appropriate share of tax & this is why this country is the most powerful in the world. Now, City or Government must build affordable housing, not this politically correct rent control ordinance punishing the Mom & Pop landlords. Mom and Pop landlords work VERY HARD and can hardly take care of own family members and must NOT take care of long-term low rent tenants 'for life'. Rent control ensures "Long term low pay rent tenants", it does not ensure low rents as a whole. By the way, this is supply and demand housing. Let Ms. Gonzalez do her job. if anyone knows how to be a City Manager, Mayor, CEO, CFO, flipping burgers, clerk cashiers, go try to be one.

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Mar 23, 2014 at 11:12 am

Burger flippers? I doubt that the commenters posting knowledgeable, thoughtful opinions and questions here are burger flippers, whether they lI've in E. Palo Alto or not.

Maybe aaa should be a landlord where there's no rent stabilization law, since their obvious bias against their tenants has outed them in this thread. [Portion removed.]

Posted by aaa, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Aquamarine: We adore our tenants. Your claim of bias is totally could well be your own bias against landlords in general. Why did you say so, may I ask?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

aaa does, unfortunately, come across as biased against tenants and rent stabilization. Perhaps they'll consider getting out of the business, since the city has had rent stabilization for decades. With privilege comes responsibility.

Given what I've seen and heard, I'd suspect this commenter's animosity toward Lamont is the result of them being a problematic landlord. I've met some landlords around the area who are responsible, follow the law, respectful of their tenants and expect the same in return. They don't badmouth Lamont.

It would probably be pretty easy to address all of aaa's points in their comments, but since the comments are hard to make adequate sense of, I'm not going to attempt it.

Posted by mary brown, a resident of University South
on Mar 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm

mary brown is a registered user.

Well, here we are---with a bunch of knee-jerk, grammatically painful, and obviously biased responses. As a resident, and one who has dealt with all kinds--troublesome landlords, great landlords, poor tenants, irresponsible tenants--let me say that I am glad there are responses such as those of Mmmm, Cymande, and Aquamarine. As for poor Joey, well, it's easy to mouth-off in a biased manner and generalize. Generalize--that is the crux. In a poor community, generalities don't work, they don't work in any humane situation. It's the context that is relevant.

So, basically, if there are compassionate landlords who understand that this is a poor community, and if they assist tenants in meeting their obligations, there may be less friction. For example, as an example, instead of slapping a poor tenant with a legal notice to evict for non-payment of rent, perhaps a landlord could talk to the tenant, and a referral to a support agency could be given to tenant.

Of course, landlords have to also afford owning property, and also make a profit. That is their business and livelihood too. Repeated late or no rent payments make that difficult. Perhaps there are humane ways to encourage or buyout a non-paying tenant to leave. Again, this is humane, landlords have to consider that they chose to be/buy in a low-income community.

Finally, of all the criticism of Lamont, mainly by Joey, well, apparently Joey is biased. He has absolutely no idea of the inner workings of the rent ordinance's office. I highly doubt he knows the ordinances either. So, Joey, take our challenge, and define for us two ordinances. From what I gather, and in talking with people, Lamont is an educated, intelligent woman. I doubt if she would jeopardize her reputation by being blatantly biased against landlords. Listen to what people who know her are writing here about her, Joey. I get the sense from these postings that she has worked CONTEXTUALLY, addressing each situation with its own merits.

Several readers have commented on Joey's incoherence. I can understand him/her quite well. He is referring to situations that are specific for his situation and generalizing it to Lamont's entire work. Yes, Joey may be correct in implying that there are many redundant or difficult aspects of Lamont's job that is, of the rent ordinance in general. But it is a new project in its 2010 ordinances, and it is a work in progress. The more disturbing issue is the city manager who has apparently gotten herself into a real hot soup by her attack on Lamont. And, by extension, of then the Rent Board, and by further extension, of the Rent Board members, members who work for a coffee-money stipend. I wonder if the Rent Board considers Gonzalez' report an affront on their office. Hers was an unprofessional move--she targeted one office out of all in the city, she went over the city council's (her boss') head, she spent city money without approval. She will probably pay for it with her job. Instead, she could have approached the city council, the rent board, and Lamont with a mediator, to discuss her complaints--which are personally against Lamont and less with the job.

In fact, in fact, the city of EPA is looking much better these days--and this is obviously and apparently due to a combined effort of "good" landlords and the rent ordinance. Congratulations.

Posted by mary brown, a resident of University South
on Mar 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm

mary brown is a registered user.

Oh yes, I should add Aaa's name with Joey. Do your "home works," guys, do your home works. Google can reframe your postings in correct English, it's easy...And give us some evidence, as Hmmm asks, for your statements. Evidence would be the rent ordinance rulings that made Lamont do her job, not your own personal little situations as if yours are the only issues. Of course you'd be pissed if Lamont tried to implement the ordinance and you had to obey! And guess what, without that the tenant would be on the street.

Posted by mary brown, a resident of University South
on Mar 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm

mary brown is a registered user.

Aquamarine! Do our camp justice! It's "if it WERE coherent"! In the subjunctive! :)

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I wonder who aaa really is? There have been some scofflaw

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by mary brown, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Well, the cat's out of the bag. Has nobody on this blog read the "Review" of the EPA rent ordinance, or the Administrator's response??
It should be made visible in the Daily.
The main point I want to make at this juncture is: Who is auditing the City Manager??
And I guess the well-thought out responses of those supporting the rent ordinance has silenced the likes of aaa and Joey.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Did the city manager inform the city council about the audit? Did she inform the Rent Stabilization Board? How do we get a copy of this spurious audit and its rebuttal?

Mary Brown - have you been able to let the council know your feelings about all of this? They should know when residents have serious concerns!

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:21 am

According to one of the previous comments, one of East Palo Alto's current landlords was convicted of defrauding HUD some time back, in another local county. I wonder if he's under intermittent scrutiny by any housing organizations or agencies based on his conviction?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Well, I expect that there will be follow up stories since there were reporters at a meeting tonight that dealt with this report. I read the report and it's utter sophomoric garbage. I'm not the only one who thought so, either.

Posted by Tom Sims, a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I am not a citizen of East Palo Alto or privy to this discussion, but I want to go on record as saying that in my experience of working with Carol Lamont in another city, I have not met a finer, more creative, intelligent, and wise person. She has one of the best hearts I know. She is intelligent, honest, and caring. I am proud to call her a friend and would value to opportunity to work with her on any project anywhere.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Tom Sims - that is the experience of many people, and we have been incredibly lucky to have her in our city. I hope that this mess gets resolved in the most ethical, smart manner. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

Posted by mary brown, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2014 at 3:09 pm

mary brown is a registered user.

Those interested and those outspoken must have by now read the city of East Palo Alto City Manager's Review and rent control Administrator's Response. Everyone needs to write immediately to the City Manager of East Palo Alto to rescind her so-called and erroneous Review and ask the rent control program administrator Ms. Lamont who is referred in the article at the start of this blog, to rescind her resignation. Before she does resign. The city's tenants will suffer immeasurably if the Administrator leaves, and the integrity of the rent control program will be in jeopardy.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Mary Brown - what great comments! But I think that it'd be best for residents to call or email their council members, as they're the body the city manager reports to. Complaining directly to the one who caused the problem won't make a difference - she'll merely ignore the complaints. By going over her head, to the elected representatives of the residents, and stating also that *you expect a response from your council* is a crucial part of the democratic process.

The city council meeting for April 15 has been cancelled, but the councilmembers can be reached at this link: Web Link
Just click on their individual names for their contact information.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Carol Lamont, resident of Palo Alto, whose impeccable reputation is known throughout our state, indeed left her job for the City of East Palo Alto. Her treatment by Magda Gonzalez was shameful. The mayor's support of Gonzalez is stupid, wrong-headed and either arrogant or naive, it's hard to tell.

You can tell by reading city council meeting agendas and watching the meetings that the Mayor Laura Martinez is trying to make this all go away, and is hoping that people are too busy to pay attention and do anything about it.

If the city council members are tired of hearing all of the bad stuff in the media about E. Palo Alto, then they need to better control their employees, like Gonzalez. Her power grab is inexcusable, and the council are remiss in their duties to let Gonzalez behave the way that she is.

Mayor Martinez - do you want to be recalled? No? Then get your head together and quit being the city manager's puppet.

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