In a result that has huge implications for the local housing market, Mountain View voters have passed the Measure V rent-control charter amendment.
The voter initiative emerged with a thin lead on Tuesday night that grew as the night went on. By 9 p.m., cheers erupted at the Mountain View Day Worker Center as volunteers announced the initiative held a steady lead. By the time all precincts were reported, the measure had won 52.15 percent approval, giving it a 651-vote lead.
By 8 a.m. Wednesday, that lead had grown to 53.4 percent of the vote.
"This is a victory," said Maria Marroquin, executive director of the Day Worker Center and a leading proponent of the measure. "This is our time; this is our campaign."
In basic terms, Measure V calls for creating a new five-person rental-housing committee, appointed by the City Council, that would be in charge of setting allowable rents, making new regulations or ruling on tenant-landlord disputes. The policy stipulates that rents increases should adhere to the Consumer Price Index of the Bay Area, at a minimum of 2 percent and at most 5 percent in any year. The logic behind it, tenants advocates say, is for rent increases to be linked to the rising income levels of tenants.
"This means that a majority of the population that rents in Mountain View can finally breathe a sign of relief," said Daniel DeBolt, spokesman for the Mountain View Tenants Coalition. "We always expected this race to be super-close."
A city-sponsored counter-proposal to rent control, Measure W, was losing, with only 48.85 percent of the vote in support, according to the Wednesday morning results.
The two rent-control initiatives were perhaps the most consequential decision on the Mountain View ballot. Both initiatives promised a plan to curb the runaway apartment rental market and protect tenants. But while they shared a common goal, the means were quite different.
The main backers of Measure W were the four City Council members who voted to place it on the ballot: Mayor Pat Showalter and councilmen Chris Clark, John McAlister and Mike Kasperzak. They authored Measure W as an ordinance, giving them flexibility to amend it in future years with a five-member supermajority. Meanwhile, the Measure V supporters, the Mountain View Tenants Coalition, argued that rent restrictions are too important to be trusted to the whims of elected leaders. Their initiative would be written into the city charter, making it amendable only through another popular vote in an election.
More than a year ago, hundreds of tenants began making regular appearances at City Council meetings to demand the city immediately do something to stop what they described as a mass displacement of low-income families. To back up their claim, they pointed to statistics showing that average rents in the city had skyrocketed by 80 percent since 2009.
But the council's plan for action fell far short of what tenants sought. The council approved a right-to-lease ordinance allowing tenants to avoid month-to-month agreements, and a beefed-up mediation program to settle landlord-tenant disputes that stopped short of binding arbitration. But tenant advocates complained that landlords still had no real restrictions against no-cause evictions or huge rent increases.
In response, tenants' advocates aimed for a rent-control initiative. In a surprise to council members, the Tenants Coalition successfully gathered the 7,300 signatures needed to place Measure V on the ballot.
Fearing a rent-control package that would be too onerous, the City Council voted to put forward their own alternative plan on the ballot based on a binding-arbitration program they had rejected in March.
Mountain View's push for rent control came in tandem with similar campaigns in Alameda, Richmond, Burlingame and San Mateo. Efforts in Burlingame and San Mateo fell far short of the necessary majority to pass. Meanwhile, voters in the city of Alameda approved a milder rent-stabilization package with a sizable 68-percent majority vote. Similarly, Richmond also approved rent-control with a 62.9 percent majority.