Defeat the landlord-sponsored initiative to abolish Rent Control in California

Defeat the landlord-sponsored initiative to abolish Rent Control in California

There are few things scarier today in San Francisco than the prospect of losing rent control.  In the last six months, rents on newly vacant apartments have jumped to appalling levels – so that a sudden abolition of rent control would create a mass exodus of seniors, the disabled, people of color, artists, students and non-profit workers.  But that’s what a statewide Proposition in June would do – along with outlawing inclusionary housing laws requiring developers to include a percentage of below-market-rate units in new housing construction. The initiative would also outlaw proposed new water projects, environmental protections and many land use and zoning regulations.  Under the guise of restricting eminent domain, the so-called California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act (CPOFPA) would devastate our ability to pass measures that make a real difference – making their definition of “reform” sound more like a wrecking ball.  75% of San Francisco renters cannot afford market rate rentals.  95% of San Francisco would-be home buyers cannot afford market rate home purchase costs. A wide coalition is necessary to defeat it now, and a Noon press rally Wednesday in front of City Hall with Assemblyman Mark Leno, PUC Manager Susan Leal, labor and environmental leaders was the first such step.

Sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association – the same folks who gave us Prop 13 – CPOFPA is dangerously similar to Prop 90 (which voters rejected last year), but in certain ways is even worse.  While Prop 90 would have prevented the ability to pass stronger rent control laws made necessary by the overheated housing market, CPOFPA would retroactively abolish existing tenant laws by defining them as a “continuing damage” to private property.

Already, real estate speculators who have opposed tenants’ rights for years are salivating at the prospect of repealing rent control.  “I cannot think of any other real chance to do this,” said Greg McConnell of the Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA), “since Berkeley voters would never pass such a local initiative.  Having spent the last 12 years in Sacramento, I am convinced that no change will come from the state legislature.  Nor can we look for a sweeping court decision.  I have talked with too many legal experts to know there is nothing on the horizon that will create a death blow to rent control.”

In a guest column on the BPOA website, McConnell urged Berkeley landlords to get involved in the campaign to pass CPOFPA, because “you have nothing to lose except your money – and everything to win.”  But their tenants, as well as renters across the state, have a lot to lose if the right-wing extremists succeed in foisting their agenda on the rest of us.  Efforts to keep California affordable for everyone will be in jeopardy, along with basic land use regulations that could be viewed as a “taking.”

But you don’t have to be a tenant to be outraged about CPOFPA – you just have to drink water.  Other parts of the ballot initiative – which would be enshrined in the state’s Constitution – would prohibit the acquisition of land and water through eminent domain to develop public water projects.  The initiative would ban eminent domain for private use, but Section 19(b)(3)(ii) includes such “private use” as the transfer of property rights to a “public agency for the consumption of natural resources.”

What does that mean?  Any construction projects to deliver running water would be ruled unconstitutional.  San Francisco’s long-term plan to revamp Hetch Hetchy that provides our clean water would be nixed, as well as other efforts to bring public drinking water to California’s growing population.  That’s why Susan Leal, who manages our Public Utilities Commission, will be speaking out at today’s rally in opposition.

Anyone who cares about the environment should oppose CPOFPA.  The proposition would ban laws or regulations that “transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner.”  Because the courts have ruled that virtually all land-use decisions and environmental laws can transfer an economic benefit from one party to another, these laws could suddenly be out the window.  That’s why John Rizzo, who chairs the local Sierra Club, will be speaking out today.  Other environmental groups are expected to come out in opposition as well.

Right-wing proponents of CPOFPA are hoping that voters will get confused – and simply support it because it says it will restrict eminent domain.  There are legitimate reasons to oppose eminent domain abuse – nobody wants the government to take someone’s property and give it to a private developer like Wal-Mart.  The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision allowing a local city to take peoples’ homes for private use was certainly misguided.  But the solution is not to ban rent control, repeal environmental laws and make it impossible to provide clean drinking water.

Fortunately, opponents of CPOFPA are gathering signatures for a competing proposal on the June ballot.  Their proposal would simply restrict excessive eminent domain – with no unpleasant surprises such as a repeal of rent control or safe drinking water.  Voters who want to stop eminent domain abuse deserve a clear choice between both propositions – and if advocates can qualify the other measure on the ballot, the right-wing lies can be exposed.  The deadline to qualify is November 20th.

In the meantime, join Assemblyman Mark Leno, PUC Manager Susan Leal, the Sierra Club, Senior Action Network, the SF Tenants Union, the SF Labor Council at 12:00 p.m. today on the steps of City Hall to send a strong message against the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.  Mayor Gavin Newsom was also scheduled to speak at the rally, but did not appear.  Together, we will help claim our state from the right-wing imposters who try to take it over.

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How can you tell the bad, landlord-sponsored measure from the good, tenant-friendly measure? If you are asked to sign to help put a ballot measure supposedly on eminent domain on the state ballot, look at the summary at the top of the signature form. On the third line, it actually says “Prohibits rent control and similar measures.” You can see an illustration of the header of the landlord-sponsored initiative here.

This piece is based on a BeyondChron November 14 piece. Read a BeyondChron piece on Wednesday’s rally/press conference against the landlord-sponsored initiative to repeal rent control.

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