Local voters could see at least two ballot measures in 2020 seeking to curtail or heavily revise the city's rent control provisions. At last week's City Council meeting, elected leaders agreed to consider a city-sponsored ballot measure to revise rent control.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga brought up the idea at the April 2 meeting, saying she wanted to address lapses in the rent control law.
"I didn't support Measure V, but I was told by proponents that it would take care of all the issues. Clearly it has not," she said. "I think this is important enough that we should consider it."
Reached for comment after the meeting, Abe-Koga explained that she saw many shortcomings with the city's implementation of rent control that needed to be addressed. She cited rent control as the main factor behind a recent string of redevelopments that displaced tenants. More apartments will likely be torn down in the future, she warned, especially as older apartments require costly improvements such as seismic retrofitting.
A new ballot measure would be an opportunity to ensure those costs can be passed through to tenants. City attorneys say this would be an opportunity to clean up the language of Measure V to provide more clarity, Abe-Koga said.
Any prospective measure put forward by the City Council could also be sharing the ballot with a landlord-backed initiative to roll back the law. That ballot measure blocks the ability to put a cap on rent increases when the city's vacancy rates exceed 3 percent — and there's no reliable data showing that vacancies have ever dipped below 3 percent in Mountain View, meaning the measure would essentially block the existing rent control from ever being enforced.
Despite being dubbed a "sneaky repeal" by tenants and their advocates, supporters of that initiative successfully collected signatures last year and submitted it for a 2020 ballot. It is up to the City Council to decide whether to schedule it as part of the March 3 primary election or the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Asked about the landlord-backed ballot measure, Abe-Koga said that some elements could be incorporated into a future city measure. She pointed out that the 3 percent vacancy rate has been controversial and she suggested it could be adjusted.
Council members have singled out a number of problems regarding rent control. In particular, city officials have blasted the law for being inflexible, as it was intentionally designed to prevent them from making revisions. Measure V is vague on which types of housing are applicable, which created many problems for mobile home park residents as they waged an unsuccessful political and legal campaign for nearly two years to be included under the law's protections.
Most controversial of all has been the impact the rent control law has on the local housing market. From day one, landlords have warned that restricting rents would cause apartments to be torn down and replaced with for-sale housing or newer rentals that would be immune to the law.
Proving this assertion is difficult, and it depends on how you parse the data. Since rent control passed, the number of apartment properties being sold has risen: In 2015-2016 there were 58 apartment properties sold in Mountain View; in 2017-18 there were 71.
But the number of apartment units being sold has sharply decreased from prior years. In 2015-16, there were more than 1,300 apartment units sold, but fewer than 800 in 2017-18. This means that smaller apartment properties with fewer units were sold after rent control passed.
The Mountain View City Council is expected to discuss a future rent control measure at its April 23 goal-setting session.
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