With early voting in the March primary election just two weeks away, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party is recommending that Mountain View voters reject the City Council's ballot initiative to modify the city's rent control law.
The organization's 80-plus member Central Committee voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to oppose Measure D, calling the effort to clean up aspects of Mountain View's rent control law one that would weaken renter protections and make it easier for landlords to make nonessential upgrades and pass the costs onto tenants.
The party typically makes endorsements on candidates for local public office as well as tax measures -- it's recommending a 'yes' vote on every school bond and parcel tax measure on the March ballot -- but selectively wades into debates on citywide topics, said Bill James, chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party. Though votes on endorsements are usually unanimous or nearly unanimous, there was some back-and-forth about whether to weigh in on Mountain View's rent control debate.
In November, the Mountain View City Council voted to place Measure D on the March 3 primary ballot which, if approved, would make dozens of changes to the city's Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA). The rent control law was approved by voters in 2016, and caps annual rent increases on the roughly 15,000 apartment units built before 1995 based on the regional inflation rate -- 3.5% as of last year.
Measure D seeks to do away with the fluctuating rent cap, and would instead impose a flat 4% maximum annual rent increase permitted for rent-controlled apartments. It would also explicitly exclude mobile homes from the renter protections -- the current law is ambiguous, and has been the subject of lawsuits -- and create an expedited process for landlords to raise rents beyond the 4% cap in order to offset capital improvements.
After hearing from both sides and holding a debate on Jan. 9, James said around three-fourths of the committee voted for a "no" vote of Measure D, above the two-thirds supermajority needed to make an endorsement. The consensus, he said, was that any benefits from fixing small problems with CSFRA were far outweighed by substantial and unnecessary changes that weaken the existing law to the benefit of landlords.
"The rental protections that were obtained through (CSFRA) would be diluted or weakened under Measure D," he said. "And to the extent that there were cleanup items that might be required ... a narrower measure that addressed those shortcomings could've been sufficient."
Some of the changes felt unnecessary to the party's membership, James said. CSFRA already allows for a rent increase of up to 10% in order to offset the cost of safety upgrades or new city-mandated improvements to older apartment properties. Measure D seeks to streamline the pass-through rent increases, but in the process broadens the list of eligible upgrades to include environmental sustainability and projects that "extend the useful life" of the property.
Also questionable is the change proposed in Measure D that would prevent members of the city's Rental Housing Committee from paying themselves, which James said seemed disingenuous -- committee members have never tried to pay themselves for overseeing Mountain View's rent control program.
The Santa Clara County Democratic Party had previously encouraged voters to approve Measure V, which enshrined the rent control law in the city charter in 2016.
James said the party's committee membership has also evolved over the years, shifting in favor of stronger renter protections and pro-housing policies since he joined 25 years ago. It appears to be generational: Younger advocates involved with the party are trying to figure out how to make a life for themselves in an area where the cost of living is extraordinarily high and one unexpected bill could leave them without a stable home. This is true even among young adults who have gone to college and pursued professional careers, yet are still stuck with a feeling of fragility.
"The frustration I see among young people is that they've done everything they've been asked to do, and they still don't see a stable place for themselves in this economy and this community," James said.
The League of Women Voters of Los Altos and Mountain View is also recommending that residents vote against Measure D, along with other local advocacy groups that include the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance.