A landlord-backed initiative that would have significantly curtailed Mountain View's rent control law will not appear on the November ballot, after its proponents moved to withdraw the measure Friday.
Tenant advocacy groups hailed the decision to drop the measure they dubbed "the sneaky repeal" on Aug. 7, just three months before Election Day, calling it a victory over an existential threat to the city's renter protections. The backers faced deep criticism after multiple voters reported being misled by paid signature-gatherers into signing a petition to place the measure on the ballot.
"The (measure) was based on deception," said Steve Chandler, a member of the Mountain View Tenants Coalition. "Congratulations to our Mountain View neighbors for rising up and supporting the truth."
The ballot initiative, dubbed the "Mountain View Homeowner, Renter, and Taxpayer Protection Initiative," was slated for the Nov. 3 general election ballot this year after it received enough signatures to qualify in 2018. The measure was put forth by former councilman John Inks and real estate agent Bryan Danforth, but was largely spearheaded by the California Apartment Association.
Most critically, the measure would have suspended nearly all of the tenant protections under the city's rent control program, known as the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA), in the event that the vacancy rate of the city's rental housing units reaches or exceeds 3%. The vacancy rate has not dipped below 3% in at least two decades, leading some opponents to describe the initiative as a "sneaky repeal" of rent control.
The measure would have limited rent control only to households making up to 100% of the area's median income, and would have capped the annual fees imposed on landlords to pay for operating CSFRA.
Joshua Howard, a spokesman for the California Apartment Association (CAA), said in a statement Monday that the initiative has some problems due to its age. Drafted in 2018, the measure now conflicts with new statewide legislation -- AB 1482 -- which caps rent hikes and imposes "just cause" protection against evictions.
Between that and changing priorities to focus on the coronavirus pandemic, Howard said the association is no longer working on the passage of the measure.
"CAA and its members remain opposed to local rent control ordinances and are committed to working with the community, housing providers and elected leaders on real solutions to the region's housing crisis -- the development and construction of new housing," Howard said.
Inks did not respond to a request for comment, but said in an email last month that he was unsure about the fate of the ballot measure and what parts of it would comply with AB 1482. He said he remains a staunch opponent to rent control.
"I don't begrudge tenants and workers at all for pushing back on high rents and seeking minimum wage levels," Inks said. "However, I still do not support politically mandated wage ans price controls for economic reasons. Overall, best value for consumers is when the market of sellers and buyers set and pay prices based on choice, not mandates."
It's unclear how much support the measure would have received at the ballot box. During the March primary election, City Council-backed Measure D attempted to soften Mountain View's rent control protections but was handily defeated by more than two-thirds of voters. The measure's proponents described it as a compromise between the existing law and the landlord-backed measure, and said they'd cut a deal for CAA to abandon its own November measure if Measure D passed.
In the ballot argument filed against the now-withdrawn November measure, Councilwoman Alison Hicks wrote that corporate landlords were attempting to fool residents with deceptive and misleading statements. If the initiative were to prevail, Hicks said it would allow landlords to increase rent in excess of 7% per year, reined in only through nonbinding arbitration.
"The tenant could go through a dispute resolution process to determine the reasonableness of an increase that exceeds 7%, but the outcome of that process would be advisory only and would not bind the landlord," according to the ballot argument.
Hicks also worried that, because rent control only applies to families under the median income, landlords would have an incentive not to rent to lower-income families.
The November measure also faced opposition from the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance, a coalition of residents across the city's six mobile home parks. Though mobile home tenants are currently exempt from CSFRA and the city's mobile home parks do not have rent control, the group has fought against efforts to scale back renter protections in the city.
Tim Larson, the alliance's president, said he is glad to hear that CSFRA is no longer under threat from the November measure, and that the hope is to soon extend rent control to the city's mobile home parks.
"Many of our members literally cannot wait to get the protections that are currently safeguarding other Mountain View residents," Larson said.
In statement Friday, former Councilman Lenny Siegel said the measure was a veiled attempt to repeal the city's 2016 rent control law, making it on the ballot through paid signature gathering in 2018 and $260,000 in campaign spending from large apartment companies in Mountain View. Despite the expensive push to get the measure passed, Siegel said apartment owners saw the writing on the wall when Measure D was handily defeated in March.
"Faced with certain defeat the apartment owners pulled the plug on the measure Friday," Siegel said. "I don't recall any other case in which the California Apartment Association has thrown in the towel on a ballot measure. This is something we can be proud of."