Petition to suspend Richmond rent control garners more than enough signatures, backers say

Contra Costa judge to review arguments against Richmond rent control

A petition to suspend Richmond’s recently-passed rent control and just cause for eviction ordinance has garnered far more than the required number of signatures, according to the California Apartment Association (CAA), which represents property owners and was the petition’s main backer.

Just over 7,000 signatures were submitted to Richmond’s city clerk, the CCA said in a statement Thursday, far exceeding the approximately 4,100 needed to suspend the ordinance, which passed City Council on Aug. 5 and was set to take effect on Friday.

Petitions were scheduled to be hand-delivered Thursday to the County Elections Office for verification. The county has 30 working days to certify the results, Mayor Tom Butt reported in his e-forum newsletter.

If enough signatures are certified, the ordinance will return to City Council, which can choose either to repeal it or to have voters decide upon it on the November 2016 ballot.

Until Thursday, the powerful CAA has been a silent backer of the controversial petition, which drew outrage from rent control supporters, among them three powerful unions and several community groups.

Moving forward, rent control supporters are considering, among other legal options, “filing a complaint asking the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the signature-gathering tactics,” according to the Contra Costa Times.

Both sides of the debate accused the other of disseminating misinformation during the petition drive.

Supporters of rent control first brought up allegations that some petitioners hired by San Francisco-based Pacific Petition lied about the ordinance in order to gain signatures. The petitioners were being paid per signature, with the Times reporting allegations that payments escalated from $6 to $20 per signature during the course of the drive.

In response to the petition, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has more than 45,000 members in Northern California including Richmond city employees, paid for automated calls to residents urging them not to sign. Other rent control supporters such as the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) distributed a flier and warnings on social media, including videos of residents who claim they were deceived by petitioners.

Rent control supporters, however, were also accused of using deceptive language about the ordinance in its campaign to defeat the petition.

In a statement Thursday, CAA chief executive Tom Bannon said the City Council “fast-tracked” the ordinance’s approval without properly studying its impacts. By repealing the ordinance, a more thorough discussion can happen, he added.

“Rent control has long-lasting, negative impacts on communities,” Bannon said. “That’s one reason no other city in California has approved rent control in decades.”

The rent control passed with help from the RPA’s three members on City Council — Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez and Jovanka Beckles. The three vote as a bloc and received their critical fourth vote from Vice Mayor Jael Myrick.

Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Vinay Pimple and Nat Bates oppose the ordinance.

The rent control portion of the ordinance would cap annual increases of no more than 100-percent of the Consumer Price Index — about 1.5 to 2 percent — for nearly 10,000 units in the city. Excluded from the ordinance are all single-family homes, units built after Feb. 1, 1995, Section 8 recipients, hotels, condominiums and nonprofits providing childcare and other social services.

The just cause portion of the ordinance would apply to all residential units in the city, including condos and single-family homes, but not for units such as hotels or nonprofit service providers. It would replace the current system where landlords only need to give notice, not a reason, for eviction.

For a breakdown of the complex ordinance, including the arguments from both sides of the issue, visit here. To view the ordinance itself, go here.