Landlords Object to Expert Who Helped Draft Santa Monica Law : W. Hollywood Hires Rent Control Coordinator

Times Staff Writer

The West Hollywood City Council has hired Ken Baar, who helped draft regulations for liberal rent control laws in Berkeley and Santa Monica, to write the city's first rent ordinance.

Baar was praised by council members as a man with tremendous knowledge of rent control. But Sol Genuth, a spokesman for apartment owners, said hiring Baar was "a clear signal from the City Council that it is not prepared to take into consideration the views of apartment owners." Genuth said the city should employ Baar along with a consultant more concerned with the views of landlords.

The position of rent control coordinator is particularly significant in West Hollywood where 85% of the inhabitants are renters. Rent control was the driving issue behind the approval of cityhood in the November election.

A temporary rent freeze adopted by the council will expire May 1 and the city must have its permanent ordinance approved by then, a city spokesman said.

Plummer Park Hearing

Baar, 37, will conduct the city's first public hearing on the ordinance Monday at 7 p.m. at Hall A in Plummer Park to discuss which dwellings should be controlled. Three additional hearings will be scheduled to discuss other aspects of the law.

Baar will be paid up to $11,000 as rent control coordinator. He will be with the city for as long as it takes to write the ordinance and establish a rent control administration.

In a telephone interview at his Berkeley home, Baar said he will follow the will of the City Council, not his personal convictions, in writing the ordinance.

"It's my job to present them with all the alternatives and let them decide," Baar said. A lawyer and urban planner, he said his expertise is in the effect of court decisions on rent control.

Baar's "Guidelines for Drafting Rent Control Laws: Lessons of a Decade" was published by the Rutgers Law Review in 1983. He frequently testifies in court cases on the constitutionality of rent control laws.

Lays Controls to Boards

Baar wrote regulations for the Santa Monica and Berkeley rent ordinances that are considered to be the most restrictive in the state. But the tight controls come from the liberal makeup of independently elected rent boards, rather than the wording of the rent laws, he said.

Baar said he will not push Santa Monica- or Berkeley-style ordinances on West Hollywood but will leave the decision to the City Council.

The Berkeley lawyer was chosen over two other applicants. Hamilton, Rabinovitz, Szanton & Alschuler, a consulting firm, offered to complete the job for $133,000. (Partner John H. Alschuler Jr., a former Santa Monica city manager, was rejected by the West Hollywood City Council once before when he applied for the job of interim city manager last year.)

The consulting team of Laurie Lieberman and Wally Siembab was also turned down. Both Lieberman and Siembab have worked for the city of Santa Monica and proposed to complete a rent ordinance for West Hollywood for $50,000 to $65,000.

The City Council unanimously approved hiring Baar at Thursday's meeting and set an $11,000 limit on his pay.

Criticized by Genuth

Genuth, a spokesman for the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, called Baar a "tenant activist" and said he will not be impartial.

"I don't think anyone would say he is objective in representing the concerns of both tenants and landlords," Genuth said. "We would be very concerned if we were locked out of the (ordinance writing) process."

Genuth said he had hoped the city would also hire Santa Monica attorney Steve Jones, who he said has represented landlords opposed to rent control.

But Jones was not seriously considered because of his opposition in court to rent control laws, according to a spokesman for City Council member Helen Albert.

A public hearing scheduled for next Sunday could be the most heated on the rent issue. At that meeting the public will be asked to comment on the method of establishing rent increases, including the issue of vacancy decontrol.

Cities with vacancy decontrol allow landlords to increase rents as much as they want when tenants move out, but in Santa Monica, Berkeley and other cities, all rent increases are governed by rent control laws.

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