What Do You Get When These Three….?

Humor can prove risky in news stories stemming from tragic events such as the North Bay wildfires. But just as a dash of pepper can complement a dish, a dash of humor can draw readers into news coverage—as this student realized on her own.

By Maci Lee Martell

PETALUMA — A rabbi, a landlord and a physician walk into a City Hall meeting. What do they want?

Rent stabilization.

A long line of impassioned appeals to freeze rent in the wake of the deadly North Bay wildfires preceded prompt, unanimous votes in favor of two environmentally friendly, energy-conscious proposals at a Petaluma City Council meeting Nov.20.

Petaluma City Hall was packed Monday evening with a diverse array of residents opposed to rent increases. People shared their support for rent control, and some told stories of being pushed out of their homes as rents continue to spike in an already expensive county to live in.

Rabbi Ted Feldman of the B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma noted how the state capped rent increases at 10 percent during this time of crisis, yet he said that local municipalities should limit this even more to prevent price gouging.

“We consider it a moral issue,” Feldman said to city council members. “We consider it unfair to take advantage of people’s circumstances. In many ways, it’s a form of deception. It says in our religious traditions that we should not put stumbling blocks before the blind. Yet we find people putting stumbling blocks out there.”

Annie Dobbs-Kramer, community organizer at the North Bay Organizing Project, recognized the issue of landlords pushing people out of their homes so that they can jack up rents. She urged the council to consider a moratorium on rent hikes that would last throughout the state of emergency. The soonest that the council could vote on any moratorium, however, is at its Dec.4 meeting.

Other community members echoed their support for controlling rent increases. This included homeowners who were displaced by the wildfires. Shale Butler, a Petaluma landlord who said he “will not be raising anyone’s rent today, tomorrow or over the next year,” believed that would be the right thing for all landlords to do.

Dr. Fasih Hameed, associate medical director at Petaluma Health Center, told the council that the housing issue is also a public health issue.

“We see every day the impact of the rising housing costs on our patients,” said Hameed, who noted that those displaced or struggling to afford rent suffer from acute stress and other related health problems.

Mayor David Glass said he and the council should protect the public. He asked City Attorney Eric Danly for more information on laws that discourage price gouging.

Danly said the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office has a team of investigators currently looking into price gouging cases and that residents should call the DA’s office at 707-565-2311 to file such complaints.

After public comments ended over the potential freezing of rent hikes, Glass asked the council to approve two agenda items. The first involved the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s plan to urge the U.S. Congress to enact a revenue-neutral, carbon fee-and-dividend program that calls for a fee on fossil fuels starting at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. This would jump $10 per ton each year. The Treasury Department would collect the fees and place them in a carbon fees trust fund that would be rebated to American households to compensate for higher energy costs.

According to a study by Regional Economic Models Inc., a revenue-neutral carbon tax of this sort would slash carbon dioxide emissions by 33 percent yet pump about 2.1 million jobs into the country after 10 years. After 20 years, carbon dioxide emissions would plummet 52 percent below 1990 levels. The improved air quality could help prevent more than 230,000 premature deaths, the study said.

Councilman Dave King called the Citizens’ Climate Lobby proposal a small step in the right direction, and the council voted unanimously to endorse the idea advocated by the nonprofit organization.

The remaining agenda item involved authorizing a contract for an LED streetlight retrofit project to DC Electric Group Inc. Eight months ago, the City Council approved an interfund loan of $1.49 million from the city’s wastewater fund to finance the replacement of high-pressure sodium bulbs with LED lighting in Petaluma’s streetlights.

According to the proposed resolution, the replacement of high wattage HPS bulbs with LED would cut power usage by 60 to 65 percent and therefore reduce the city’s energy bills. The monthly savings would help pay off the interfund loan over an estimated 11-year period. DC Electric Group of Cotati presented the lowest bid of $704,522 to complete the project and has previously worked for the city of Petaluma on similar public works projects.

The council unanimously approved the resolution and awarded the contract, aligning with the council’s sustainability goal of “Design and deliver cost-effective energy and other resource-savings projects for city facilities and infrastructure.”

Note:  To read more Sonoma County-based work from this author prior to her Fall 2017 semester at SF State, visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/maci-martell-a171b8133/

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