It’s difficult to imagine a more disgusting and spineless decision than the unanimous decision by the Fresno City Council on Thursday to delay a vote on Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s proposed rental-housing inspection ordinance.
Low-income tenants preyed upon by Fresno slumlords have been waiting more than two years for the mayor and the City Council to do the right thing.
Now they must wait for a Feb. 2 meeting – if the council doesn’t punt the issue again.
Some of these renters – many of them immigrant families, the disabled or senior citizens – live in apartments crawling with roaches and mice. Other renters must put up with mold, leaky roofs, air conditioners that don’t cool, and heaters that don’t heat.
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These dangerous conditions are common in Fresno rentals. The Bee’s four-month investigation, “Living in Misery,” and subsequent stories have documented the realities in great detail.
This situation is more than just a black eye for Fresno. It’s the recipe for a repeat of the Summerset Village crisis that left more than a thousand people a year ago without heat and hot water in the cold of November. It’s also a recipe for more deadly fires and more candle-lit vigils in which family and community members mourn the loss of loved ones.
When crisis strikes, politicians rush to the spotlight. They look straight in the camera and promise fixes and express deep concern for those suffering. That’s exactly what happened when Summerset and its slumlord owner, Chris Henry, became a huge statewide story last November.
Thus far, those vows to do right by the people who often are invisible to Fresno leaders haven’t been fulfilled. They are just broken promises – just like the broken pipes and windows common to slumlord rentals.
Anything worth doing – and a rental-inspection program certainly qualifies – is worth doing right. But the mayor and the council have had more than enough time to put together an ordinance that protects renters without punishing rental property owners who provide clean and safe housing at a price that is fair to all.
The biggest factor in this delay has been political pressure from the California Apartment Association, which represents the rental housing industry in our state.
This group, which spent at least $42,000 supporting Councilman Lee Brand’s successful mayoral campaign, has made it clear that its members don’t want to pay a rental registration fee.
Brand, meanwhile, told a member of the Editorial Board on Wednesday night that a vote on the ordinance likely would be delayed because he and others wanted to strengthen it.
We acknowledge that Swearengin’s proposal wasn’t perfect. But the council process allows for members to hear the public’s comments, amend proposals and vote. It happens all the time when the people’s representatives are motivated to act.
The ordinance should have been voted up or down Thursday if for no other reason than to allow the public to see which council members are kowtowing to apartment industry lobbyists and slumlords, and which ones want to protect Fresno’s most vulnerable residents.
Mayor-elect Brand also said in the Wednesday interview that a delay would give him time to improve the ordinance so that it better protects both renters and property owners. We will hold him to that – and to a Feb. 2 deadline.
There must be no more delays.
The seven council members and the mayor-elect must decide, once and for all: Are they going to fix an intolerable situation, or roll over like puppies for the California Apartment Association?