3/12/19 City Council Meeting Highlights

By Susan Sayre

Present were:
Mayor, Donald Wagner
Council Member Melissa Fox
Council Member Farrah Khan,
Council Member Anthony Kuo
Council Member Christina Shea

Highlights of a City Council Meeting Filled with Heartrending Agenda Items:

  • City response to fire, flood, and wind disasters
  • Addressing boarding houses that clutter Irvine streets with trash and cars and destroy the character of Irvine neighborhoods
  • UCI students forced to live in crowded and unsafe boarding house living conditions due to the lack of affordable housing but are at risk of being homeless if the boarding houses are shut down
  • Increasing numbers of students, families with children, and aging seniors  who are joining the homeless population.

OCTA’s long Range Transportation Plan with Goal of Increasing Traffic Speeds on Roadways:

OCTA Staff report stated that the long range plan is to comply with the Federal standard of traffic flowing at 40 miles per hour or greater.

OCTA plans to do so by:

  1. Expanding toll roads;
  2. Widening freeways and increasing the number of freeway lanes;
  3. Improving and increasing routes of Orange County bikeway networks;
  4. Increasing streetcar networks;
  5. Increasing number of Metrolink trains;
  6. Coordinating Metrolink train schedules with bus services.

Mayor Pro Tem Shea asked if changes were going to be made with regards to carpool lanes. Staff reported that carpool lane protocol is being changed to allowing free use of the lanes for cars with 3 or more people in the vehicle and the lane being a toll lane for cars with fewer than 3 people in the vehicle.

Irvine Receives National Weather Service Storm Ready Recognition:

Irvine has improved their response to disaster events such as heat, storm, wind, fire and flooding. The goal is to protect lives and the economy.  There is an emergency plan for upcoming weather events which is implemented from 5 days prior to the event. The plan includes emergency radio, TV and phone alerts.

The Homeless Population is Ballooning!

Presentation by the Illumination Foundation, a non-profit that provides housing for homeless families:

A video was shown which put a face on the homeless population. Members of the homeless population were interviewed including women who had lost jobs and housing, and women who had left abusive husbands and had their children taken from them while homeless, but were reunited with their children after finding shelter.  The presenter stated that the homeless population is ballooning throughout the county and that Seniors are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.  The Illumination Foundation provides home based shelters for homeless families but they still have 81 people on their waiting list.

The British are Coming!

City Manager, John Russo and Irvine Chamber of Commerce reported that Irvine is having success with arranging for British life sciences, medical and biotech companies to expand  and move to Irvine based locations.

The Veteran’s Cemetery May Come Yet, But Location Still to Be Determined:

City Manager, John Russo is working with Sacramento and Washington DC to discuss State and Federal Funding options.

Boarding Houses are the bane of Neighborhood Communities, but are the Only Affordable Housing Available to Many UCI Students Who Would be Homeless but for the Space they Rent:

Boarding houses and short term rentals have caused a severe deficit of street parking, streets littered with trash and liquor bottles, and noisy parties all which adversely impact neighborhood character. However, students are dependent upon them for affordable housing.

Staff report by Steve Holtz:

Short term rental homes are homes that are rented for less than 31 days.  They are prohibited in Irvine, but due to the fact that the website ads for short term rentals hide the location of the properties, the ban on short term rentals is difficult to enforce.  Investigators can only locate them with citizen complaints.

Boarding houses are houses where 2 or more tenants live on separate leases with each having separate rooms, and each having access only to their room and the common areas of the house and tenants do not share household chores or responsibilities or share expenses.  Boarding houses are prohibited in Irvine. Boarding houses have been illegal, but investigation of violations has been reactive requiring citizen complaints. Evidence substantiating boarding house violations have been difficult to obtain.

The revised Boardinghouse Ordinance would change violation investigation to a proactive process, no longer requiring citizen complaints. Irvine has proposed instituting a proactive investigation of violations by contracting with Host Compliance, an investigation firm, to assist with identifying illegal boarding houses and with enforcement of the regulations. Code enforcement would have the right to obtain copies of leases and proof that all tenants of a home live as a family unit with shared expenses and responsibilities.

Holtz reported that if boarding houses are shut down and roomers were forcibly removed from the homes, the city would help them find a place to live. Irvine has also proposed a ban on street parking between the hours of 2 AM and 6 AM or permit parking only.

Wagner asked city attorney Jeff Melching if the revised ordinance was compliant with the Federal Fair Housing Act . Melching said that the ordnance would not be considered as discrimination based on familial status.

Public Comments were many, both in favor of the changes and in opposition to the changes.
There was a very large student and homeowner turnout. 

Arguments in favor of the changes:

  • Overcrowded houses cause a deficit of neighborhood street parking, accumulation of trash and liquor bottles along the streets, excessive noise and poorly maintained homes thus adversely impacting neighborhood character. Public commenters presented photos and videos of crowded street parking, trash lined streets, and chairs placed on tile roofs during parties.
  • Foreign money is buying homes and using them for boarding houses. Commenter said that this amounted to establishing a prohibited commercial business in community neighborhoods.
  • Increasing the percentage of rental property in a neighborhood reduces accessibility to FHA approved mortgages and thus adversely affects the ability of a homeowner to sell their homes.
  • Homeowners are required to disclose conditions of the neighborhood that would adversely impact a potential buyer’s enjoyment of their home.
  • Many condos and apartments are allotted one carport, but the household residents have multiple cars.  If street parking was banned between 2 AM and 6 AM, where would they park their cars?

Arguments in opposition to the changes:

  • Senior commenters reported that family members have left home and they have extra rooms which they rent out to students. They said that they have never had complaints about their roomers.  One said that retired seniors need the extra income from room rentals in order to make ends meet.
  • Multiple students said that they live in crowded and even unsafe conditions in homes due to the lack of affordable housing in Irvine.  If the boarding houses were shut down and they were forced to leave, they would have nowhere to live and would have to drop out of school.
  • The ordinance violates the Fair Housing Act because cities have no right to determine who people can live with. Commenter stated that the boarding house regulations violate the constitutional right of Freedom of Association of homeowners with residents.
  • Opposed to data collection on property owners and renters regarding their life style and relationships with people living in their home.  The city has no right to determine who they eat with or who does the chores: This is a violation of the right to privacy.
  • The revised ordinance is not responding to the root cause of the problems created by boarding houses which is the severe lack of affordable housing in Irvine. A UCI professor reported that one of his very promising students had dropped out of school due to the lack of affordable housing.
  • Kuo stated that he does not care what is done inside one’s house, but when a house is not maintained, trash is not appropriately disposed of; it adversely impacts the character of the neighborhood.  There needs to be a solution to this problem.  
  • Khan said that there is a housing shortage that needs to be addressed. Khan said that homeowners can get Conditional Use Permits to run a boarding house. Planning staff confirmed that permits were obtainable.
  • Fox stated that the problem is the lack of enforcement of zoning and traffic regulations which support neighborhood preservation. The city has no business determining who can share a housing unit.  Currently many seniors and other homeowners cannot afford to stay in their homes without renting rooms. However, according to Fox, the city has the right to regulate short term rentals as they are a commercial business.
  • Shea stated that availability of affordable housing for UCI students is an important issue. However, defending homeowners and neighborhood character supersedes affordable housing for students in importance. UCI has substantially increased the number of enrolled students. UCI has the responsibility of providing affordable housing for all of its students. Shea proposed that Irvine work with UCI in order to get them to provide affordable housing for its students.
  • Wagner stated that it is the city’s responsibility to protect quality of life in Irvine and that providing affordable housing for UCI’s students is UCI’s problem.

Motion approving changes to the boarding house ordinance was approved 4-1 with Fox voting against approval.

City Manager John Russo, proposed Irvine’s Municipal code which requires City Council approval of appointing, removing, promoting or demoting City officers, be changed to authorize him to take such actions Without City Council Approval unless City Council indicates they wish to be included in the decision making process.

Russo said that taking routine staffing decisions to the city council as agenda items is a time consuming process.  He therefore is proposing streamlining personnel changes by means of giving notice to each city council member regarding recommended staffing changes and giving council members 3 days to respond to the staffing request. Should a council member believe that the decision needs to be discussed, it would then be placed on the city council agenda. The right of the city council to have oversight over personnel decisions would be preserved.

City Attorney Jeff Melching reported that for most cities, the city council selects the city manager and authorizes the city manager to have the authority to appoint and remove city officers.

Motion to approve the municipal code amendment was approved 4-0 with Wagner absent.

Anthony Kuo presented a request that the city establish a 1,000,000 Volunteer Services Challenge to Irvine residents.

Kuo proposed having people note their volunteer hours on the City Website’s Transparency Portal and that the city create a Thermometer Graph to be set up in city hall which will track the number of recorded volunteer hours performed by Irvine residents.

Motion passed 4-0 with Wagner absent.

  • Public Comment stated that contrary to what Mayor Wagner stated in his State of the City Address, homelessness is a growing problem which needs to be addressed. Commenter stated that affordable housing does not address the need for shelters and support services for the homeless. Commenter suggested setting up a volunteer work program for physically and mentally able members of the homeless population to allow them to contribute to society and thereby improve their self-confidence and self-esteem. Commenter said that the responsibility for providing for the needs of Irvine’s homeless belongs to the city; it is not solely the responsibility of the faith community, residents and non-profits to address these needs.