It happened so quickly and garnered such cursory media coverage that it was easy to miss. But San Jose Councilwoman Maya Esparza’s recusal last week from a discussion about rent control reignited an important debate about who gets to shape city policy.

First, a recap.

On Feb. 5, six members of the City Council voted to authorize a study about whether the Ellis Act discourages new development. Under the Ellis Act ordinance, developers that raze old rent-controlled properties must put at least half the new units or the number of apartments removed from the market—whichever is greater—under price stabilization.

Before councilors heard the item, Esparza announced that she’d sit this one out because she lives in a rent-controlled apartment. Mayor Sam Liccardo, who announced her recusal from the item is placed on the agenda, seemed a bit taken aback. As did several members of the public in the audience that night who wondered why the same rationale didn’t apply to the body’s resident landlord, Councilman Johnny Khamis.

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