East Palo Alto residents who face eviction for living in illegal or dangerous housing received a reprieve from the City Council Tuesday night when the council unanimously decided to give tenants 30 days, rather than 10, to leave when their residence has been deemed hazardous.
The move is intended to address the spate of evictions occurring since the city hired more code-enforcement officers. About 40 families have been evicted so far because officers have been cracking down on illegal second dwellings, such as converted garages, trailers, sheds and cottages on properties.
Advocates asked the city to invoke a two-year moratorium against the red-tagging. But city staff told the council the moratorium would violate state law. State building codes require cities to eliminate hazardous dwellings within 30 days.
But there is a caveat to the city's ordinance change: The 30-day notice can be shorter if the enforcement officer thinks there is an immediate threat to the health and safety of the public or the tenants.
In addition to the 30-day notice, city staff have also outlined a six-point program to address problems associated with the renewed red-tagging effort: issue a request for proposals to a nonprofit to provide services to those evicted; train staff on de-escalation and conflict resolution through the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center; hold periodic informational meetings with the public about how to legally convert second units and garages; prepare a technical guidebook to assist owners with the legal construction of second units; add information to the Affordable Housing Strategy request for proposals to include survey policies such as amnesty and funding sources used by other nearby cities and counties; and identify and prevent unintended consequences by strengthening second-unit occupancy standards.
The first, second and fifth items could be initiated soon while the others would be more long term, staff said.
Council members, however, questioned the need to spend money on displacement services if agencies would only offer referrals to programs that are already filled. They also questioned giving more than $34,000 to Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center through a single-source contract, noting that other groups, such as Project Sentinel, might be more conversant in issues specific to housing.
The council asked staff to solicit a proposal from Project Sentinel.
On Oct. 18, when the council first discussed the red-tagging problem, members directed staff to create a community task force to address the crisis and to implement the six-point goals.
Last Tuesday, Councilwoman Lisa Gauthier noted the proposed list of members seemed limited to professional groups and nonprofits and did not include individual community members, such as representatives of tenant organizations.
The council then recommended a list of 14 positions, including five from the community. Each council member would choose one member.
In addition, the task force would include council members Gauthier and Carlos Romero; a city staff representative; two individuals from the nonprofit Faith in Action; San Mateo County Housing and Health Departments; Menlo Fire Protection District; the nonprofit Rebuilding Together; Community Legal Services; and one city planning commissioner.