At a sparsely attended public forum last night at Eureka's City Hall, Eureka City Councilman Larry Glass announced that he and his fellow Ad Hoc Housing Task Force members have decided to abandon controversial proposed changes to the municipal code that would have created a complaint-driven rental housing inspection ordinance. In its place, Glass suggested a program in which all Eureka landlords -- even those renting a single unit -- must register for a business license with an annual fee of $15 for the first unit and five dollars for each additional unit.
Glass called the new proposal "a registration and contact information requirement," which would include an optional landlord notification service for properties that receive numerous emergency service calls. The proposal also calls for the creation of a new program coordinator position, which would be funded through "a shifting of resources."
Most in attendance (the crowd of 15 or so was made up almost entirely of landlords and property managers) seemed pleased with the new proposal and relieved that Glass had backed away from previous calls for a complaint-driven inspection system. At a public workshop held last week at the Wharfinger building, numerous landlords vehemently opposed such measures, calling them "Gestapo" and "Draconian."
The new business license fee structure would replace the existing ordinance that charges an annual fee of $55 for all rental complexes of four or more units, plus $11.50 for each non-owner employee.
Some in attendance remained leery of any changes to existing regulations, including one man who questioned the tax repercussions of the new ordinance, suggesting that the license requirement would qualify landlords as self-employed, thus forcing them to pay higher taxes. Glass countered that most landlords are already licensed. City Attorney Sheryl Schaffner said she'd investigate the issue.
Glass said he wasn't convinced this was the right move. "I think that [the new proposal] should be less controversial than the other concept, although I believe the problem is pretty serious that we have in this town, and I'm not embarrassed by the things we were proposing before," he said. "But I have been persuaded that they're not gonna fly." He promised to oversee the new system -- should it be approved by the City Council -- and meet with staff regularly to ensure that it achieves its goals.
The Housing Task Force has been working for two and a half years, attempting to resolve crime and blight issues surrounding "problem properties" in Eureka. "I am a little skeptical [about the new proposal] because I've been watching this a long time," Glass said sullenly. "But who knows? Maybe this will do it. It's worth a shot."