Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2017  
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  Above the Law
October 9, 2017

My calling out of RPA members Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez for being unlicensed and unregistered landlords has generated hundreds of posts on several Facebook strings. Predictably, RPA members and sympathizers are horrified that the mayor would spotlight such nice people, calling it a “smear campaign” and a “non-issue,” Jimenez asked, “What kind of way to run a city is this? Is it right for the mayor of our city to use his spotlight and make false accusations against people?” Why, they ask, didn’t I just contact them and let them know they had a little problem?

Moore and Jimenez are not just simple people trying to get along. They are well-educated, smart and highly involved in Richmond politics. If anyone should have known better, it would have been them.

Moore holds himself out as an expert on Richmond’s economy and housing stock, on which he has studied and written extensively. He was a primary author of several studies about Richmond Belonging and Community Health in Richmondand Anchor Richmondthat served as manifestos on which Rent Control was based and on which the successful challenge that doomed the Global Campus was based. Moore is a program manager for the Hass Institute, “has written a number of reports and strategy papers on environmental justice, mass incarceration, community economic development and community health issues.” “Eli draws on training and experience with geographic information systems, mixed methods research, conflict mediation and negotiation, and popular education to facilitate participatory processes that allow those most affected by injustice to lead decision making and advance transformative change.” He holds a Bachelor’s degree from University of California at Santa Cruz and dual Masters degrees from Syracuse University.

Claudia Jimenez also knows something about building, being a licensed architect in her native Colombia. She serves on the elite Richmond Progressive Alliance Steering Committee, and the notice of intent to circulate the petition for the Rent Control initiative that subsequently passed and is now the law in Richmond was filed by Claudia Jimenez and Gayle McLaughlin. The rent Control ordinance, in which Eli and Claudia presumably had a role in drafting, extensively cites the Haas Institute in the "Findings" (RMC 11.100.020). Jimenez was also the Richmond’s Progressive Alliance’s preferred choice for the City Council seat ultimately awarded to Vinay Pimple.

Moore is also someone you can always count on to provide a cynical or pessimistic spin on anything positive in Richmond. His attacks on the Richmond Global Campus proposal played a role in its demise. Maybe that’s why Richmond Confidential reporter Sara Harrison reached across 3,800 miles to Eli Moore in Colombia to get a quote on the downside of the Richmond ferry. Moore, a self-proclaimed expert on gentrification in Richmond, gave Richmond Confidential reporter exactly the negativity she was seeking, that the Richmond ferry may not be such a good thing after all, “warning that the conduit might not be equally available to everyone” and “the greatest barrier for many Richmond residents isn’t cost or logistics: It’s knowledge. He recounted meeting young Richmond locals who have never ventured as far as the Miller Knox Regional Shoreline in Point Richmond.”

Until the Richmond ferry article came out, Moore/Jimenez were, in fact, under the radar with their illegal rentals.  But apparently the media exposure motivated some of their frustrated  neighbors to rat them out.

In Richmond, applying for a business license is the portal to eTRAKiT, which gets you into the City’s property database. If you are not in the system, you are below the radar, both an unfortunate tradition and a big problem in Richmond. That’s why Burnt Ramen was able to exist without any permits or inspections for years. They never applied for a business license.

The episode with Burn Ramen, which incidentally evoked much sympathy from the RPA, motivated me to look into the problem of businesses operating without licenses in Richmond. I found that they numbered in the thousands, surprisingly including some large companies familiar to most of us. Not only was the City missing out on millions of dollars in fees that were badly needed for critical items like street maintenance and public safety, but the businesses’ buildings, including residential rentals, were not being inspected for basic life safety compliance. Subsequently, the City restructured its business license compliance unit, brought over a thousand businesses into compliance and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. This, however, remains a work in progress.

When the RPA drafted the Rent Control and Just Cause Ordinance, a key provision was to pay for its multi-million dollar enforcement bureaucracy with fees from landlords. Claudia Jimenez  joined Gayle McLaughlin in signing the Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition for the Rent Control and Just Cause Ordinance.

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Jimenez either didn’t read the ordinance she proposed, or she forgot its content. Or maybe she just decided it was for other people. When Jimenez and Moore became landlords themselves in July of 2017, renting out two residential units, they failed to take out a business license, failed to register their units for both safety inspections and rent control. Public records indicate that at least one of the units was constructed without a building permit, and they are not paying property taxes on it. Jimenez and Moore were flying under the radar, fully dodging Richmond regulation, taxes and fees.

In multiple emails and Facebook posts Jimenez/Moore have acknowledged their “mistake” and have committed to fix it.” We are renting out our house and we have not registered with the city as residential property owners since we moved to Colombia in July. This was a mistake, we should have done this sooner and we are doing it now.” Instead of thanking me for pointing out their indiscretions before they got in real trouble, they accuse me of “false accusations.”