Renters Storm City Hall, Get Moratorium

Two arrests and a severe injury marred the city of Alameda’s special council meeting considering additional tenant protections last Wednesday, Nov. 4, at City Hall.

The chaos began less than 30 minutes into the meeting that was supposed to provide a blueprint on how the city would temporarily resolve the rising rent issue in Alameda. Members of the renters’ advocacy group, Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC), and other tenant advocacy groups from around the Bay Area, bombarded the hallways leading to the council chambers where the meeting was taking place.

Two renters’ rights advocates, 64-year-old John Klein and 68-year-old Bob Davis, were arrested at the meeting on several charges. Video of the altercation circulated on the internet last week and was a topic of discussion among many local news outlets. The video shows a large crowd of people holding signs reading "I Rent & I Vote," trying to enter the chambers.

At one moment Davis, a transgender woman, tries to enter the chambers, but is pushed back by interim assistant city manager Bob Haun and an Alameda police officer. While on the ground, Davis, a music professor at City College of San Francisco, appears to trip Haun and he falls to the ground. Haun was taken to the hospital with a broken hip. He was treated and released and will be convalescing for 90 days.

After Haun fell, two Alameda officers were more forceful in their attempt to subdue and arrest Davis. Officers slammed Davis’ face to the ground leaving a pool of blood on the hallway floor leading to the council chambers. Davis can be heard screaming "stop hurting me" repeatedly as she was held down. Davis was booked on suspicion of threatening a public official, resisting arrest and battery of a public official causing great bodily injury, according to Alameda Police Lt. Jill Ottaviano. Klein was arrested for allegedly swatting at a police officer. His charges were suspicion of battery on a police officer and obstructing a police officer, both misdemeanors. Typically one officer is assigned to a council meeting, but due to the alleged unruly behavior, more officers arrived.

ARC caused some commotion believing they were being kept out of the meeting intentionally. The chamber seats were mostly filled by local landlords. ARC members were heard shouting "Let them speak" and "moratorium now," on videos.

Doug Smith, along with his family, has owned a rental property in the city for more than 30 years. He said there was no plan by landlords to take up seats and keep renters out.

"They had the opportunity to speak," said Smith. "There was no coordination by landlords to push the tenants out. Saying the landlords planned this is nothing further from the truth. I did not get there until about 10 minutes before the meeting began and there was not a single one of them in sight."

At city council meetings, staff passes out speaker slips before the meeting to ensure those people who fill one out will get a chance to speak. Many of the ARC members there apparently did not fill one out.

"This was their plan all along," said Smith. "Their plan was to bust out in riot fashion after the meeting got going so they could be on television saying ‘we were not heard.’" Inquiries to ARC were not answered by press time.

After the commotion, Mayor Trish Spencer decided to allow everyone who wanted to one minute to speak regardless of whether or not a speaker slip had been filled out. More than 80 people spoke at the meeting, according to Smith, and the meeting did not conclude until 2 a.m. the next morning. The rent advocacy members spoke about how rising rents have put a burden on their lives. Landlord groups spoke about how the rising cost for upkeep and maintenance and short supply of housing in the city is driving up rent prices.

After more than seven hours, the council unanimously voted for the adoption of an urgency ordinance imposing a temporary 65-day moratorium on residential rent increases and on evictions from all residential rental units except for those caused to preserve peace, health and safety.

Contact Ekene Ikeme at eikeme@alamedasun.com.