Mountain View voters who flat-out oppose rent control in any form will have an easy decision when they cast their ballots this election season. But those who support creating a mechanism to help stabilize a situation in this city in which double-digit rent increases -- sometimes multiple hikes in a single year -- are driving far too many residents from their homes will have a more complicated choice: They can vote for the citizen-backed Measure V, or for the hastily crafted City Council-sponsored Measure W.
We believe that rent stabilization is overdue and urgently needed to help staunch the flow from our community of senior citizens, working families, and others not reaping the economic benefits of the high-tech boom and who can no longer afford skyrocketing rents. And we firmly endorse Measure V.
The City Council had an opportunity earlier this year to meaningfully address the unprecedented crisis facing renters, and appeared to be poised to do so. But in the spring, council members significantly weakened the proposed ordinance that was intended to give renters needed relief, removing a last-resort binding arbitration provision that they had indicated support for late last year. This prompted citizens to gather signatures to place Measure V on the ballot.
In an attempt at recovery, the council then quickly crafted Measure W to compete, a move seen by some as an attempt to confuse voters and sabotage the efforts of Measure V backers. And to stir up further confusion, the California Apartment Association, which as of mid-September had raised $520,000 to oppose Measure V and similar Bay Area measures, several weeks ago mailed out an anti-Measure V hit piece filled with misleading and false statements.
In its haste to put a competing measure on the ballot, the council has left a major policy question unresolved until after the election. Council members late last month tried unsuccessfully to resolve a key question regarding the city's tenant-relocation ordinance, which is referenced numerous times in Measure W to specify how landlords may be able to pay a fine to evict tenants, thereby getting around the measure's just-cause eviction protections. This latest failure by the council builds ambiguity into Measure W, and the promise to work out the details after the election is the equivalent of telling voters, "Trust us."
The time for rent stabilization has come, and our support for Measure V is based on its well-thought-out, reasonable and fair provisions -- rules that ensure that landlords can benefit from a fair return on their investments and have flexibility to raise rents beyond the basic limits if they can show that the higher adjustment is needed to provide that fair return.
Other key provisions of Measure V:
• Landlords may raise rents once a year by 2 percent to 5 percent, based on the CPI. (With Measure W, the rent-hike cap is 5 percent, and an increase is permitted twice a year.) Landlords may "bank" rent increases under Measure V, as long as the subsequent rent hike doesn't exceed 10 percent in a 12-month period.
• The council appoints a five-member Rental Housing Committee to oversee the rent-stabilization program; up to two members can own or manage rental property, or be a developer or a Realtor.
• Landlords may not evict tenants without just cause, which would include failure to pay rent, criminal activity, nuisance, necessary repairs, withdrawal of the unit from the rental market, failure to grant the landlord access to the unit and move-in by the owner. Although the rent-increase cap applies only to apartments built before February 1995 because of a state law, the just-cause-eviction tenant protection applies to all apartments, regardless of age. (Measure W offers just-cause eviction protection only to tenants of units built before February 1995.)
• The Rental Housing Committee can suspend Measure V provisions if the average annual vacancy rate of rental units covered by the ordinance exceeds 5 percent. (Measure W does not include a provision whereby the ordinance can be suspended.)
Measure V opponents, including council members who supported the competing Measure W, argue that because the citizen-backed measure would be a charter amendment -- and therefore would require voter approval to change -- it will have dire unintended consequences. This isn't a compelling reason to oppose Measure V. If the city's leaders, or its residents, see a need to change the ordinance because of flaws perceived after it takes effect, the City Council can put a measure on a future ballot to adjust it. That is not an onerous fix, if a fix is needed.
The argument that decision-making by voters is too costly or inefficient is weak, and shouldn't carry the day in a democracy.