Being a landlord isn’t easy. Being a landlord while sitting on the Board of Supervisors isn’t at all easy — especially when you’re Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, and a potentially crucial, legislation-saving vote on a controversial package of laws that Mayor Gavin Newsom has publicly promised to veto.
Continuing her monthlong role as “Madame Swing Vote,” Maxwell was the target of some political and legal gamesmanship on Thursday, when her board colleague Supervisor Chris Daly tried to prevent Maxwell from recusing herself from voting on Daly’s Renters Economic Relief Package.
The same simple math that dominated the Muni budget wrangle — namely, that eight votes out of eleven board members equals a veto-proof majority — applied Thursday. Maxwell, who owns some rental properties in the city, wanted to recuse herself from voting on the legislation, which would limit the amount landlords can impose banked rent increases on tenants, cap rent increases at 1/3 of a tenant’s income, and allow tenants to bring in non-familial roommates to overcome financial hardships.
Maxwell recused herself last week when the legislation was debated – or not so much debated as praised by renters and lambasted by owners – at the Land Use committee hearing. But Daly came prepared on Thursday.
Those who don’t care about legal nitty gritty, please use the following phrase as explanation: Daly thinks Maxwell won’t be affected enough financially by the laws for there to be a conflict of interest and therefore, as representative of a lower-income, tenant-heavy district, she should vote; Maxwell and the City Attorney both disagree.
For legal nuts: Section 18705.1 (c) (4) of the state Attorney General’s Conflict of Interest laws states that an elected official is not in conflict if a governmental decision will affect “an entity’s gross revenues in the amount of $25,000 or more,” affect expenses for $5,000 or more, or increase or decrease an entity’s assets by $20,000 or more. Section 18707.9 of the laws state, in effect, that a property-holding public official need not worry about conflict of interest if he or she owns three or fewer rental units; and 10 percent or more of units in his or her district would be affected by the law. A letter from the City Attorney supporting Maxwell’s decision to recuse herself should be available soon, Maxwell told The Appeal on Thursday evening.
The exchange was testy and heated: supervisors tried to shout over each other to be heard, Supervisor Eric Mar told Daly that he was “making Sophie uncomfortable,” and Maxwell could be heard saying “Just chill out, ok?” to Daly before she made her way out of chamber.
Daly received heat from some members of the public for exiting the Board chamber for a media interview during public comment – though since he’s not a member of the committee he is free to do so – but not before telling reporters that voting on legislation is the duty of every elected official.
But Maxwell remains steadfast in her insistence that there is a conflict of interest, which would mean Daly’s laws are doomed. Why? Well, with Maxwell out, there are 10 votes and three close mayoral allies make up three of those votes. Eight, not seven, votes are needed to tango, and since Newsom is said to be unsupportive of the proposed legislation…Game over, man.
“Not just one city attorney, more than one, said there was a conflict,” said Maxwell, reached at home by The Appeal on Thursday evening. “These were the same people [Daly] talked to…. I could taint the whole thing [if I voted], so we’re erring on the side of caution.”
Maxwell did say that Thursday’s dustup won’t harm the two supervisors’ legislative relationship.
“It’s just one issue,” she said. “I have the same relationship I’ve always had with him [Daly]. It’s not personal, it’s about the issues.”