September 3 City Commission: Renters’ rights, ADUs, open containers


At the September 3 Gainesville City Commission meeting, City Manager Lee Feldman reported on a new agreement with the School Board on School Resource Officer (SRO) funding. The City currently splits the cost of SROs with the School Board, and the School Board pays Gainesville Police Department (GPD) about $1.2 million per year. The new agreement will have the same payment in fiscal 2021, but the School Board will pay $1,387,500 in fiscal year 2022, $1,481,250 in fiscal year 2023, and $1,575,000 in fiscal year 2024. 

During commission comment, Commissioner Harvey Ward said that, “Given the rise in gun violence in our community,” he wanted the City Attorney to report back at their next meeting on the lawsuit against the state’s preemption of local firearm ordinances. When Mayor Lauren Poe said that meeting already had a substantial agenda, Ward said, “I think that having a discussion about gun violence and our inability to keep guns off our streets is an important conversation to have and to remind the community of.”

Renters’ Rights

The so-called “Renters’ Rights Ordinance” consisted of two parts. The first part adopted a modified version of the International Property Maintenance Code that will apply to all residential and non-residential structures, not just rentals. This completely replaces the previous housing and commercial property maintenance code. The changes passed unanimously on first reading. They will come back for a second reading on September 17. 

The ordinance regarding the regulation of rental units was next. The ordinance changes the landlord fee to $170, which is calculated to cover the costs of administering the new program, but Feldman said it was more likely to end up around $120. The ordinance also includes inspections on rental properties, on a rotating basis, every 4 years. It’s primarily focused on creating energy-efficient rental property. It excludes public lodging establishments that are already regulated under state law.

During public comment, Melanie Barr pointed out that historic houses may not be able to meet the energy-efficiency standards and that a requirement for working fireplace closures could be impossible to meet in some houses. She also said she likes to keep her houses authentic, but it may not be possible to put low-flow faucets and toilets into old bathrooms. 

Other callers described how the ordinance will likely lead to higher rents and fewer rental properties, and another group described housing as a basic right and said the ordinance didn’t go far enough in protecting renters. 

When the discussion came back to the commission, Commissioner Reina Saco pointed out that the “Extraordinary Hardship” section of the ordinance covered houses that can’t be modified to meet the new regulations. Commissioner Harvey Ward said, “As long as there are people in our community who are taken advantage of in a variety of ways, including being in rental units that are simply unsafe, we’re not doing our job. I don’t want to present a burden to anyone, but I don’t want someone to feel like they are stuck in an unsafe home, and that’s why we need to do this.”

Commissioner David Arreola said he was proud to have chaired the subcommittee that brought forth the ordinance, and he believed the ordinance “reflected common ground in the community.” He added that “some of the responses that I’ve heard are justified and some of them, frankly, are threats.”

A motion to approve the ordinance on first reading with some minor changes and direct staff to work on a mediation program between landlords and renters passed unanimously. That ordinance will also come up for second reading on September 17. 

Accessory Dwelling Units

The next item was the second reading of the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance, which allows property owners to build secondary residential units on their property. Commissioner Gail Johnson said she had spoken to someone in Portland, which has a similar ordinance, and he said that ADUs were primarily built by the wealthy and didn’t really create any affordable housing. He said that about 60% of them were used as AirBNBs. She added, “I believe that if we don’t build in some of what is important for the community for this to work for everyone, it’s going to end up being essentially a racist policy because everything is unless you build anti-racism into it.”

Johnson requested that the ordinance include the requirement that “an application for a building permit for constructing an accessory dwelling unit must include an affidavit from the applicant which attests that the unit will be rented at an affordable rate to extremely low income, very low income, low income, or moderate income persons.” She also wanted to start permitting ADUs so they can track how they’re being used and put ADUs on the audit plan for next year so the City can understand the effect they’re having on affordable housing.

Poe said the ordinance is more about an allowable use and that the other programs mentioned by Johnson “can be dealt with as we move forward.”

Commissioner Gigi Simmons said she didn’t support the ordinance because she thought the goal of affordable housing was being used as a “cloak” to allow AirBNBs and short-term rentals. She was dismayed that so many concerns were being brought up on the second reading of the ordinance, and she recommended delaying approval. 

During public comment, one caller said that the ordinance eliminated single family zoning, allowing a triplex (one ADU attached to the primary building and a second detached ADU) on a lot in a neighborhood zoned for single-family housing. Other callers recommended adding a requirement for owner occupancy and/or only allowing one ADU and criticized the commission for discussing such an important ordinance after 10:00 p.m.

After public comment, Poe said, “I just want to point out and I’m going to continue to point out when we have these discussions, the voices that are absent from the conversation. The voices that were absent tonight, say, perhaps, are the people who we are trying to reach and assist with programs like this. And I don’t know what we need to do different as individual elected officials or as an organization to make sure those individuals are present and included in these conversations. But the groundskeeper that works at the university or the custodian that makes sure the professor’s office and classroom are clean deserve to live in high opportunity neighborhoods and they deserve to be a part of this conversation. And their voice is conspicuously missing.”

Simmons replied that they altered the ordinance “drastically” in a short period of time, and “we haven’t allowed the majority of the population to digest the proposed changes. We haven’t allowed the majority of the residents to give feedback. It’s almost midnight. I’m going to say it again. It’s almost midnight, and we’re discussing something so impactful in this community that the voices that we’re trying to reach cannot hear us, are not hearing us, do not understand where we are. Or do not have the opportunity to partake in this conversation…  Unfortunately, I wasn’t here for the first reading. And so I was taken aback when I saw the drastic changes. I said from the very beginning I was opposed to ADUs. But I was willing to take part, to have the conversation with the original ordinance where you have the homeowner on site, where you have certain restrictions in place.”

The ordinance passed on 2nd reading, 4-3, with Ward, Johnson, and Simmons in dissent. 

Open containers

After midnight, they considered the first reading of an ordinance to suspend the existing open container ordinance and permit alcoholic beverages in cups outdoors during the state of emergency. It passed 6-1, with Arreola in dissent. The ordinance was scheduled for second reading on September 10. 

  • 1. Guns? There’s plenty of laws on the books about guns
    Already…do a crime with a gun and you’re done. Most of
    These guys committing crimes & carrying around guns are black and convicted felons….c’mon man! That’s racist!!
    Gigi & Gail…we need to protect a brotha! Don’t black guns

    2. “…Everything is racist unless you build anti-racism into it”
    Just saying that is racist.

    3.Great…Allow people to walk around intoxicated and
    Where are they going to throw their open containers
    Away at? The street or my yard. They’re gonna be
    Pissing in the bushes too…

    Thanks commissioners….these open container people need
    To be drinking their drinks through their masks during this
    State of emergency…you need to amend that at the next reading…

  • Harvey “Two Face” is concerned about the rise in gun violence? What an idiot. Does he really think that having a conversation is going to prevent CRIMINALS from obtaining firearms. I hope his family pulls him aside and tells him just how naive he is.
    Johnson wants to model properties in Gainesville after Portland? Another idiot. Isn’t Portland the city that is being burnt down right now?
    “Wacko” Saco chimed in about “extraordinary hardship” would be considered. Another idiot. The city commission is the entity that causes the hardships.
    “Two Face” Harvey had to show his ignorance once more, “As long as there are people in our community who are taken advantage of…” Does his dub@r$e not realize the city and the county are the ones talking advantage of the residents?
    Areola said he was proud to have chaired the subcommittee. If this is what he’s proud of his parents did a poor job of raising him. You got it, another idiot.
    Simmons worried about it being almost midnight and she’s going to miss her beauty sleep – or maybe turn into a pumpkin. The community hasn’t had the opportunity to digest the changes. Since when do these, idiots, listen to the community?
    Poe wants to come across as being sympathetic to the individuals “conspicuously” absent. Wow! Just when you thought he couldn’t lie anymore. All he wants to do is exert his authority and silence their voices in a public forum.
    If any left wingnuts are reading this, these are the local village idiots you voted for.

    • C’mon man! We gotta save the environment!…paper
      Straws!….they had to make me not enjoy my beverage too…
      They got that idea from the UN. How’re you enjoying your
      Paper straw? You don’t have to tell me…we know they suck.

  • This is how taxes, uh fees, get to be $15,000 like NY, one stupid little fee/ordinace after another.
    Your goal is to push ‘Po folk to other areas or under ground for rent, as you will only drive up rental prices! Segregating the haves and have nots.
    We, the People, should be teaching community in school, church and then voting in some fiscally responsible, minimal govt interfering office holders. Ownership of home and community involves us all to be involved as we we finally take notice that we lose or gain based on what we do individually!
    These politians are not leaders, they are tyrant wannabes, and well on their way!

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