The most contentious item at the March 15 City Council meeting was about tearing down houses.
When Mayor Nancy Vaughan got to the next to last action item on the agenda, which was to allocate $1.3 million to demolish buildings that had been ordered to be demolished by the Minimum Housing Standards Commission, she noted that staff had asked that this item be continued.
A motion was made to continue the item. It is generally the practice of City Council to, with little discussion, continue items at staff’s request.
It appeared that this item represented an end-around by Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy, who is a former city councilmember.
City Manager Tai Jaiyeoba said that he was asking that the item be continued so that he could discuss it with the Neighborhood Development Department. The item was a late addition to the agenda, that is, not on earlier postings of the agenda on the city website.
Jaiyeoba added that he wanted to make sure that there was a timeline for properties that had been on the list for a long time. Some properties have been on the demolish list for over 10 years.
Also, the chief proponent of not continuing the item was City Councilmember Tammi Thurm, who often followed Kennedy’s lead when she was a city councilmember. Kennedy spoke in favor of Thurm’s motion, explaining that her department did have a plan, although she admitted it was difficult to ascertain the cost because of the variables.
Jaiyeoba said that he wanted to discuss the matter at the City Council retreat, which is next week, and make sure the city had a plan and that he had a good idea of the cost.
Thurm made a substitute motion to spend $500,000 on demolishing houses, which was discussed at length but failed for the lack of a second, which meant none of the other seven members of council present were willing to second the motion.
The City Council then voted on the motion to continue the item as Jaiyeoba requested, and that motion failed on a 4-4 vote with Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter absent.
Thurm then remade her motion to spend $500,000 on demolition with the addition that the program would be discussed at the City Council retreat and that passed on an 8-to-0 vote.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower spoke often and at length on the issue. She said that the houses needed to be demolished, but she didn’t want to see the lots remain vacant. She also said that she didn’t want to see new houses built on the lots because that could lead to gentrification.