Petition to suspend Richmond rent control has enough valid signatures

A new push to implement rent control in Richmond seeks to qualify the policy for the November ballot. An attempt last year to pass a rent control ordinance failed after being opposed by landlords and three members of a divided City Council. On Tuesday, a group that includes tenants rights advocates, labor unions and the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) renewed the effort to install rent control by filing a proposed ballot measure with the city clerk. The proposed ballot measure seeks to establish a rent board in Richmond that would set annual limits on rent increases for renters living in units built before 1995, and would allow tenants to appeal increases. The ballot measure also includes implementing a just cause for eviction policy. The coalition, which calls itself Fair and Affordable Richmond, is now waiting for the city clerk to write a title and summary for their proposed initiative. The city clerk has 15 days to do so. Rent control advocates will then have until June to gather 4,198 to qualify the measure for the November ballot. “The renters of Richmond deserve protection during the current housing crisis, and our coalition believes voters this November should be able to take a stand on the subject of just cause evictions and rent control,” Richmond Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin said in a statement. In August, Richmond City Council, which includes three RPA members, passed a rent control and just cause eviction ordinance while decrying spiking rents they said have been pushing low-income residents out of the city. But the decision was reversed after a petition to repeal the ordinance — backed by the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords — garnered enough signatures from residents. The ordinance was opposed by Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimple, who have quoted studies by economists showing rent control doesn’t work to keep rents down. They also warned the policy would discourage landlords from investing in improvements on their properties, contributing to further blight in Richmond. Supporters of rent control have a different perspective. ‘The Bay Area housing crisis has already begun to hurt Richmond, and it’s effects will only get worse,” renter Edith Pastrano said.

A petition to suspend Richmond’s recently-passed rent control and just cause for eviction ordinance — and to possibly let voters decide on the issue next year — will move forward, after officials with the Contra Costa County Clerk Recorder-Elections reported enough signatures have been validated.

According to city documents attached to the Richmond City Council meeting agenda for Tuesday, 389 of a random sampling of 500 signatures gathered during the petition drive, which launched in August, were proven to be valid. Statistically, the sampling projects that 5,514 of the 7,064 signatures submitted were valid, exceeding the about 4,100 needed to suspend the ordinance.

The petition was partly backed by the California Apartment Association (CAA), which represents property owners. It garnered enough valid signatures despite allegations by renters’ advocates that some signature gatherers had used deceptive tactics.

On Tuesday, City Council has the option of deciding whether to repeal the ordinance or to place it in front of voters on the June or November 2016 ballots.

CAA chief executive Tom Bannon has stated that his group backed the petition believing that Richmond City Council “fast-tracked” the rent control ordinance’s approval without properly studying its impacts. By repealing the ordinance, a more thorough discussion can happen, he said.

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

The rent control ordinance passed with help from the Richmond Progressive Alliance’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. Along with renters’ advocates, the RPA says rent control and just cause eviction policies are needed to prevent displacement in Richmond, where they say rents are rapidly rising as the Bay Area technology market continues its boom.

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.

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