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Costa-Hawkins repeal's impact muted for Mountain View

Prop. 10 would loosen restraints on rent control, but city's law incorporates many of state law's limits

Rent control, a political tempest familiar to Mountain View, is set to be a major statewide issue in this November's election.

Proposition 10, a ballot initiative that would end the state's restraints on local rent control policies, has thrust the controversial issue back into the spotlight.

Specifically, Proposition 10 would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 23-year-old piece of legislation that restricts rent control to certain types of older housing. Rent control measures in the state are prohibited from curbing prices on single-family homes, condominiums, or any apartments first occupied after February 1, 1995. It also forces cities to allow apartments to jump to market rate whenever a tenant moves out.

But while the repealing Costa-Hawkins would be a game-changer for many cities, its immediate impact in Mountain View would be muted, experts say. Landlords of apartments built after 1995 would still have free rein to charge tenants whatever the market will allow.

The reason is Mountain View's rent control law -- the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) -- has many of the core tenets of Costa-Hawkins baked into its language. For example, the 1995 cutoff date for apartments is written into the law, which was approved by voters as Measure V in 2016. Likewise, single-family homes, accessory units and duplexes are explicitly exempted from rent control under the CSFRA.

What this means is even if Proposition 10 passed, many of the Costa-Hawkins' restrictions would essentially remain in place in Mountain View. Back in 2016, when Mountain View's law was being drafted, there was nothing to indicate that Costa-Hawkins could be repealed, said Juliet Brodie, the Stanford Law Clinic professor who co-authored the CSFRA. While Brodie said she supports Proposition 10, she acknowledged that Mountain View wouldn't see much in the way of change -- at least not right away.

"Costa-Hawkins is a many-headed beast, and each of these heads are dealt with in the CSFRA in a different way," she said. "If Proposition 10 were to pass, it would be a great opportunity to look at these restrictions and determine which are outdated."

But even in that scenario, updating the CSFRA to be more inclusive wouldn't be an easy matter. Back in 2016, Mountain View's rent control advocates intentionally drafted their ballot measure to be inflexible by making it an amendment to the city charter. The idea at the time was to protect the law from the City Council, but that decision also meant that any changes, big or small, could be made only through a successful voter initiative. Going that route would require significant amounts of labor, money and time.

Even without bringing an update before voters, Brodie said that Proposition 10, if passed, could result in eliminating some restrictions in Mountain View. Which restrictions? She declined to give specifics, except that it would likely require some legal action.

One possible change that could affect Mountain View would be vacancy decontrol. This rule written into the Costa-Hawkins law allows landlords to charge market rate to new tenants once the old tenant moves out. If Costa-Hawkins were repealed, then tenant advocates could argue that Mountain View's price controls on apartments should remain in place even when there's tenant turnover. The relevant section of the CSFRA stipulates that rent for new tenants should be restricted "to the maximum extent permitted by state law."

Mountain View housing officials say they have not yet studied the full impacts of Proposition 10, but they say they will do so in the coming months.

With a few months to go until the November election, it remains anyone's guess how Proposition 10 will fare at the ballot box. While the campaign for Proposition 10 has raised $12 million, opponents of the measure, including the California Apartment Association, have reported raising more than double that amount.

Nevertheless, the measure has successfully harnessed some of the public outrage at the state's ongoing housing crisis. Last month, the California Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed Proposition 10, with 90 percent voting in favor of it.

More locally, another thumbs-up came earlier this week when the Peninsula Young Democrats held a formal debate on the measure. Owen Lewis, a representative from the California Apartment Association, urged the group not to mistake repealing Costa-Hawkins for a solution to the state's housing woes.

"What this would do is bring development to a screeching halt when the solution to the housing crisis is to build more housing," he said. "This is a hastily written ballot measure that is going to lead to a lack of construction."

Andrea Slater of the Coalition for Affordable Housing pointed out that even with Costa-Hawkins in place for more than 20 years, California was still failing to build more homes.

"People are being priced out of their homes, out of their communities and in some cases out of the state," she said.

The vote to support Proposition 10 was 8-3, with five abstentions.

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