The hot topic for tomorrow’s Council meeting is the adoption of Instant Runoff Voting for this year’s election, which means that we won’t have June primaries and will only vote on City Council and Mayor once, in November. If you want to read about IRV, the staff reports for the agenda items are here (PDF) and here (PDF), and Becks has a blog up about it today. But IRV is not the only important thing on tomorrow’s agenda. We’ve also got the return of the vacant building registry (PDF)
A previous stab at creating a vacant building registry came before the Council last March (PDF). The proposal, introduced by District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks, would have required the owners of vacant residential and ground floor commercial units to register their property with the City (PDF) after it had been vacant for 45 days. The proposal also included a fairly complicated fee escalation program, which would charge property owners anywhere from $175 to $5,000 for registry, depending on how long the space had been vacant. The properties would then be listed in a database maintained by City staff.
The concept isn’t unique to Oakland. Similar registries exist in Chula Vista, Fresno, Riverside County, Stockton, and San Jose. The idea is that by maintaining such a registry, cities will be better equipped to deal with the blight impacts of all the foreclosed properties they’re stuck with.
While I recognize that the large number of foreclosed and vacant properties in Oakland creates problems for the City with respect to blight and blight enforcement, I did not think, back in March, that the proposal was particularly well thought-out, and never really saw how it was going solve any of the problems it was supposed to address. A number of property owners who spoke on the item in March raised concerns that, because of the way the ordinance was written, property owners who the registry was not really intended to target would be caught by the registration requirements and fees, such as a commercial building that has even a simple vacant ground floor retail unit, empty for only a brief period of time.
In the end, the Council agreed that the proposal simply wasn’t going to work as written, and several Councilmembers said that they wanted to take a stab at their own version of it, which they would bring back later.
Now, most of the time when that happens at Council, it means that you’re never going to hear a word about it ever again. Maybe in like, three years or something. But I’m happy to report that the vacant building registry is back, and – gasp! – better. OMG.
The new ordinance, sponsored by Councilmembers Larry Reid, Desley Brooks, and Rebecca Kaplan, will require registration of residential buildings (PDF), up to four units in size, that have been foreclosed. The registration requirement kicks in once the property has been vacant for 30 days following foreclosure, and is the responsibility of the foreclosing lender. As part of the registry, the property owner must provide a maintenance plan detailing how they will keep the property compliant with the City’s minimum standards (grass no taller than 6″, no pests, no debris, no graffiti, no broken doors and roofs, etc.). In a multi-unit building, if any of the units is legally occupied, registration will not be required.
Happily, the bizarre fee escalation system has been dropped as well, replaced by a flat annual $390 registration processing fee for every building, plus an annual inspection fee of $110, for a total of $500.
So this version is clearly less burdensome and will apply to a smaller number of properties than the previous one. But how does it solve the problem of address blight in foreclosed properties? Well, that will be helped by the annual inspection. But also, the registry will ensure that the City has current information for whoever is responsible for securing, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining the property. This will make it easier to enforce existing blighted property regulations.
Isn’t it refreshing to see the City do something right?