A voter-initiated ballot measure that would curtail Mountain View's rent control program is headed to voters this fall. Tenant advocacy groups say it amounts to a "sneaky repeal" that will outright kill rent control protections.
City Council members voted 7-0 to place the measure, called the "Mountain View Homeowner, Renter, and Taxpayer Protection Initiative," on the general election ballot in November this year. In November 2018, backers gathered enough signatures to earn the measure a place on a future election's ballot, in a long-awaited bid to scale back the city's rent control law.
The campaign and signature gathering was largely supported by Mountain View apartment owners and directed by the California Apartment Association, which spent $260,000 on the initiative in 2018.
The measures proposes numerous changes to the city's Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), including restricting rent control to those making less than the median income in the area. It also caps fees on landlords at $100 per unit, and requires nonbinding mediation when rent is increased by more than 7% in one year.
But its most significant provision is that rent control would effectively end in Mountain View if the vacancy rate among rental units rises above 3%. Vacancy rates have been steadily above 3% since at least 2006, all but guaranteeing that nearly all of the current rent control protections will be suspended if the measure passes and will be unlikely to ever be reinstated.
Suspension of rent control would roll back protections that Mountain View residents have largely supported since CSFRA passed in 2016, said Joan Brodovsky, a member of the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition. She worries that landlords will use deceptive tactics during the election and downplay the effects of the vacancy trigger.
"The apartment association landlords will try to make us think their initiative will benefit renters, she said. "In reality it would end our hard-gained renter protections."
Council members were legally obligated to put the measure on the ballot -- it received well over the needed number of signatures to qualify -- but did have the option last week to draft arguments either in favor or against the initiative. The idea evoked fiery comments from residents who opposed the council weighing in, many arguing that the council should stay out of the rent control debate.
Many speakers pointed to the council's own ill-fated attempt at changing rent control on the March primary ballot earlier this year. Measure D would have raised the annual caps on rent increase and would have made it easier for landlords to pass the costs of building improvements onto tenants. It was soundly defeated.
Many speakers at the June 23 meeting said the council's actions show that its members are out of touch with their constituents on the topic of rent control. Resident Dana Pede called it a "crisis of credibility," while resident Steve Chessin said he doesn't trust the council to write any arguments related to the upcoming ballot measure after Measure D. John Lashlee, a Mountain View resident and member of the Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America, said nobody trusts the council after they lied about how Measure D would weaken rent control.
"Some of you are so out of touch with Mountain View residents that you probably don't know this, but Measure D was a huge electoral failure," Lashlee said. "Voters saw Measure D for what it was -- your attempted giveaway to the California Apartment Association."
Council members ultimately decided against weighing in on the ballot measure, at least as a formal body. Councilman Lucas Ramirez said the debate should take place between voters in the city, and that he would rather the council not wade into the issue.
City officials estimate it will cost $72,900 to put the measure on the ballot. Along with the City Council race and another ballot measure seeking to overturn an oversized vehicle ban on city streets, Mountain View is expected to spend over $325,000 on election-related costs this year.
Voters will also have a chance to weigh in on major statewide revisions to rent control on the November ballot as well. A measure spearheaded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president, Michael Weinstein, proposes scaling back long-standing restrictions on local rent control laws under California's Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.
The biggest change proposed in the measure would allow cities like Mountain View to impose rent control on units that are at least 15 years old. Currently, Costa-Hawkins exempts all units built after 1995 from rent control. In 2018, Proposition 10 would have repealed Costa-Hawkins entirely, but it was soundly defeated, losing by more than 59% of the votes.