Mayor Cathy Murillo | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Renting a place to live in Santa Barbara was difficult for the average worker before the pandemic hit. Now, with the serious economic toll COVID-19 has brought upon the city, the City Council narrowly passed a new ordinance Tuesday that mandates landlords pay their tenants three months’ worth of relocation costs should they evict them without just cause.

“Most landlords are just the mom-and-pops; we’re just small-business owners at the end of the day. We’re not the Dario Pinis of the world,” said public commenter and landlord Walter Jones, making a reference to a local mega-landlord. 

“We really can’t afford the idea of coming out of pocket 25 percent of our annual rent,” Jones continued. “If you continually undermine the people that raise your property taxes on an annual basis, eventually you will start losing against inflation…. I think you should absolutely table this.”

Jones wasn’t the only one who wanted the issue tabled. Other landlords spoke up with similar messages, and councilmembers themselves were in disagreement about the new ordinance. Initially, it was only supposed to be two months’ worth of relocation costs ― not three.

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“I’m very concerned after last week’s vote,” Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez said about the change from two months to three. “I do understand the renters and the situation, but I’m also a person that respects the process. I think where the community is really upset is that we haven’t respected the process. I think that we didn’t really acknowledge the study and went by emotions. 

“I think the study really gave us good information, and now thinking about it, I think I’d like to request that we can reopen this agenda item for discussion and really look at the pros and the cons and long-term effect to the city.”

Gutierrez ultimately voted against the item along with councilmembers Mike Jordan and Eric Friedman, who both agreed the process was not up to par, and Jordan pushed for two months. The three continuously referenced the report that the city paid for ahead of making the vote and were outvoted by the rest of the council, who wished to pass the mandate.

“I don’t have a problem with the process, and I didn’t make my vote based on emotion or lack of data,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “The report said this is a uniquely difficult place to be a renter, a difficult place to find a rental, and a difficult place to earn income to pay your rent. And that’s why we bumped it up to three, and I stand by that.”

Councilmembers Meagan Harmon and Kristen Sneddon emphasized that the discussion on the topic has continued for years, not months, and that plenty of public opinion had been heard on the matter. Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez did not speak on the item, but he voted for the mandate.

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