Richmond Activists Plan to Launch New Ballot Drive for Rent Control


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Richmond City Council. - CITY OF RICHMOND.
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The Richmond City Council voted unanimously to repeal rent control Tuesday evening after landlord groups mounted a successful referendum petition to block the policy. In August, the Richmond council had become the first in the state in roughly three decades to approve a rent control program.

Advocates of rent control — despite months of debate, rallies, and door-to-door campaigning earlier this year —  decided that it was better to repeal the measure, than let the referendum go to the ballot. That way, they can propose a stronger rent control ballot measure on their own terms, said Councilmember Eduardo Martinez. Martinez is a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), which fought hard, along with a number of other organizations, to pass the initiative. 

“Number one, the ordinance was flawed, but we felt it was important to pass it immediately [in August] so that the protections would go into effect immediately,” Martinez said of the initial ordinance. “When the real estate people forced it on the ballot, that means that it wouldn’t be voted on until November, and it would have been a year in which the people who own rental property would have been frightened into being reactionary in terms of their policies towards renters.”

Martinez said advocates of rent control want to take time to draft a stronger policy and launch a new door-to-door campaign to put a measure on the November 2016 ballot.

In September, the city's new rent control program was effectively suspended a day before it was due to go into effect after the California Apartment Association (CAA) submitted some 7,000 signatures to repeal the policy. The council’s rush to pass rent control ultimately led to the policy’s demise, the association’s CEO Tom Bannon said in a statement. “CAA quickly launched the referendum push so that the city and community would have more time to examine the long-term impacts and unintended consequences that rent control brings,” Bannon said.

The referendum left the council three options: repeal the ordinance, allow it to go to a special election, or put it on the ballot during the next municipal election in November. But because the referendum was successful, any new effort to institute rent control must also go through the ballot, Martinez said.

“Because we’ve already done an ordinance, and we’ve repealed it, we can’t do another ordinance,” Martinez explained. “It gives us more time to create a better ordinance that we can put on the ballot.”

Mayor Tom Butt said in his email newsletter that the mood of the council’s meeting Tuesday night was uncannily quiet, considering the fact that the issue had been hotly debated for months earlier this year. “It was eerie to see the year’s hottest and most divisive local political issue die virtually alone with only two public speakers, no speeches from City Council members, no rallies, no T-shirts, no demonstrations, and no fanfare,” Butt wrote.

Advocates of rent control will have until spring to draft a new ordinance and gather the requisite signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. David Sharples, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said pro-rent control groups were now assessing their options.

“We’re confident that rent control will pass on the ballot,” Sharples said, citing evidence from voting patterns for Prop 98, a 2008 initiative to repeal rent control statewide. “Tenant protections are popular in Richmond and will ultimately prevail. We understand we will be up against landlords’ big money but folks will mobilize the grassroots to get this [initiative] passed.”