November 9, 2016; San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center

Lynda Carson, an independent journalist writing for the S.F. Bay Area IMC (IndyBay), reports on three successful citizen-initiated rent control campaigns in the Bay Area communities of Oakland, Richmond, and Mountain View. These campaigns were sparked by the explosive increases in rents in the San Francisco Bay area. Three other citizen-backed measures in San Mateo, Alameda, and Burlingame were unsuccessful. The San Jose Mercury News writes of this confluence of initiatives:

In the Bay Area, controlling runaway rents is a theme to watch. It’s been nearly 30 years since East Palo Alto became the last city to adopt rent control. On Tuesday, the issue will be on the ballot in five cities—Mountain View, San Mateo, Burlingame, Alameda and Richmond. Oakland voters will consider strengthening its tenant protections.

Ms. Carson reports that Oakland’s Measure JJ passed with 73.9 percent of the vote. Dubbed the Renter Protection Act of 2016, the issue will:

  • Require landlords to petition with the Rent Board for rent increases that exceed the Consumer Price Index,
  • Expand Just Cause eviction protections, and
  • Increase the duties and powers of the Rent Board and Rent Adjustment Program to increase accountability, including the creation of a searchable database, which will give tenant advocacy organizations better access to much needed data.

Richmond has been the scene of extensive landlord tenant conflict, which culminated in Measure L with a 64.34 percent margin. In addition to providing “reasonable renter protections in place to help stabilize families and communities from unscrupulous landlords and realtors involved in price gouging, and eviction-for-profit schemes,” the election also brought three new tenant-friendly councilmembers into office.

In Mountain View, home of Google and other tech powerhouses, voters approved Measure V, which was billed as an effort to protect “families, teachers, nurses and experienced employees who are leaving as rents become unaffordable.” The citizen-sponsored effort was approved by 53 percent of the voters on Tuesday while a competing weaker initiative sponsored by City Council members failed to get a majority of the voters’ support. Ms. Carson calls this “a huge defeat for the City Council, greedy landlords, realtors, speculators, the San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR) and California Apartment Association (CAA).”

The California Apartment Association spent big bucks to resist the six renter initiatives on this week’s ballots. According to the East Bay Times, “The California Apartment Association, a housing industry trade group leading the opposition to rent control, has spent more than a million dollars on advertising, leaflets, and polling to fight initiatives in the five cities this election season.” The Times notes this is about three times the amount spent by proponents.

Ms. Carson attributes the success of the three initiatives to strong grassroots efforts combined with credible political and newspaper endorsements. In a recent email exchange, she wrote, “The real work was done by all the people who wrote the legal ballot measures to be voted on, the people who chipped in their money to finance the rent control campaigns, and the people on the street who went knocking on doors and collected signatures for the ballot measures, and handed out door hangers, and lawn signs, etc.… That is the hard part and real struggle to bring the measures to the voters.”

NBC News reports on two failed ballot measures.

Citizens in Burlingame and San Mateo turned against the measures on their ballots. Folks in Burlingame opposed Measure R, another rent stabilization proposal, by a tally of 67 percent to 33 percent and San Mateo voters declined to back Measure Q, deciding to negate the similar statute with a 61 percent vote in favor of the opposition.

A third measure in Alameda, California also failed to a City Council sponsored initiative, which was endorsed by landlords.

Ms. Carson predicts that local citizen initiatives will continue to arise if rents and predatory rental practices fail to come under control. It’s sad that these important citizen movements don’t get much coverage beyond the insights of independent journalists like Ms. Carson.—Spencer Wells