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Councilmembers Called On To Take A Stand On Rent Control Initiatives

A July 5 city council item regarding rent control initiatives seems likely to cause some discomfort for city councilmembers. (File photo)

A July 5 city council item regarding rent control initiatives seems likely to cause some discomfort for city councilmembers. (File photo)

A rent control initiative agenda item for Alameda city council on Tuesday seems likely to have councilmembers shifting in their seats.

City staff is asking for council direction on whether or not city council will sign a ballot argument, and rebuttal, either for or against the Alameda Renters Coalition “Alameda Charter Amendment to Establish Rent Control, a Rent Control Board, and Regulate Termination of Tenancies” proposed ballot measure.

The tenants group submitted some 7,882 signatures in support of the petition to the Alameda city clerk on May 24th. In order to qualify for the ballot, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, through random statistical sampling, must determine that 6,461 registered Alameda voters signed the petition. The registrar should have a determination on that by July 7th, after Alameda city council’s Tuesday’s July 5th meeting, but well before the July 19th meeting.

(A representative yesterday in the administration department at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, possibly in contravention of the California Public Records Act, told Action Alameda News that the department is not permitted to release any information on the results of the sampling effort, and directed inquiries back to the Alameda city clerk.)

Assuming the county registrar determines the tenants coalition initiative qualifies, city council members will be on the hot seat – with pressure from both local landlords and tenants – to either sign, or not, an argument for or against a ballot measure that is in response to a city council-led ordinance earlier this year, which tenants say provides insufficient protections.

Earlier this year, city council members witnessed tenant protests outside of their homes over the rent control issue.

On Tuesday, city staffers will also present council with the option to put its own, March, 2016, rent control ordinance on the ballot, providing voters with an opportunity to ratify it at the ballot box.

“The primary drawback of placing the ordinance on the ballot,” the staff report reads, “is that if it prevails, it can only be amended by a vote of the people, removing one of the key elements that ensures an effective, responsive, and sustainable program — the ability for the council to respond relatively quickly to changing circumstances in the economy, public opinion, and having the ability to refine the regulations as the program is implemented over time. Currently, the city ordinance can be amended with a minimum of two public hearings. If the same ordinance is placed on the November ballot, the program could not be altered without the time and expense of placing it on the ballot.”

On June 14th, proponents of a landlord-sponsored initiative to lock-out rent control submitted 7,491 signatures to the city clerk in support of their “Proposed City of Alameda Charter Amendment to Prohibit the City from Imposing Restrictions on the Price for which Real Property May Be Rented or Sold.”

However, it was submitted too late to make the November general election ballot. The county registrar has until July 27th to complete its random sample check of valid signatures.

The last day for council to place a measure on the ballot is August 12, but Alameda city council generally goes into summer recess for the month of August, meaning July 19th is effectively the last city council meeting date to put a measure on this November’s ballot.

Council might elect to put its own ordinance on the ballot in November, alongside the tenants coalition measure, as a middle-ground option for voters, the staff report reads.

Assuming the landlord-sponsored initiative is found to qualify for the ballot, city council will be faced again, probably in September, with the question of declaring support for or opposition to the measure. Missing the deadline for the November election, that measure would likely require a special election, possibly in the new year.

Yet another potential option not mentioned in the staff report is for city council to elect to place its own ordinance, and both the tenants coalition and landlord-sponsored measures, on the ballot together, in a combined special election, thereby presenting all three options to voters at once.

City staff estimates the cost of a standalone special election at between $540,000 to $675,000.

A third local initiative, led by Councilmember Tony Daysog, and which is intended to mitigate the impacts of the city’s ordinance for small landlords, has not yet achieved the requisite number of signatures for it to be submitted to the city clerk.

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