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City Council Votes To Put Own Rent Control Measure On Ballot

Alameda City Council voted to put it's own rent control ordinance before voters this November. (File photo)

Alameda City Council voted to put its own rent control ordinance before voters this November. (File photo)

Sharp divides on city council were in evidence on Tuesday night as that body voted to put it’s own March, 2016, rent control ordinance on the November ballot, and then decided who will work on ballot arguments.

Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese chaired the meeting and Mayor Trish Spencer joined by teleconference.

Introducing the item, city clerk Lara Weisigar explained two key provisions of the ballot resolution:

  • If the measure is approved, Alameda city council would retain the right to amend or repeal the ordinance
  • If both the city’s measure and the Alameda Renters Coalition rent control measure are approved by voters, and the city’s measure gets more votes, provisions of the city’s measure will prevail
  • Paul Foreman, affiliated with the Alameda Citizens Task force, used his public comment time before city council to explore various scenarios that may play out of conflict between the stricter renters coalition measure and city’s measure, alluding to local attorney and blogger Robert Sullwold’s recent article that explored the same issues and the potential for litigation.

    Ultimately, Foreman came down on the side of putting the measure on the ballot, saying, “if both of these are not on the ballot, voters do not have a fair choice.”

    Eric Strimling, from the Alameda Renters Coalition, which is concerned that the city’s competing measure might spell defeat for its own, told council, “I would prefer to come up with a way for you to be neutral in this fight and let the ballot work…please avoid this battle. Please avoid the potential legal battles that may come after it.”

    After discussion, council ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of putting the measure on the ballot, with councilmembers Marilyn Ashcraft and and Jim Oddie voting against.

    Oddie, who defended the city’s work from dais on Tuesday night and in a recent op-ed piece in the Alameda Sun explained his vote saying, “maybe it’s not the city’s fight – maybe it’s between the [Alameda Renters Coalition] and the [California Apartment Association.]”

    The other four councilmembers gave no consideration to Spencer’s suggestions to clarify language in the ballot question text, made partly in response to correspondence from a resident.

    But the sharpest exchanges came during the council’s discussion of which councilmembers, if any, would work with city staff on ballot arguments and rebuttals in support of the city’s measure; the committee was limited to two councilmembers to avoid creating a city council quorum when they met to discuss the ballot statements.

    Mayor Spencer offered to sit on the committee and councilmember Tony Daysog expressed a willingness to participate without insisting he join.

    However, Ashcraft and Oddie, both of whom have affiliations with the local firefighters union, objected to Spencer’s participation.

    They pointed to a ballot argument that Spencer filed against a different city-sponsored ballot measure, the Utility Modernization Act, a utility users tax measure that aims to raise an additional $1.5 million in tax revenue from communications services, and voter-ratify a long-standing annual $3 million transfer of revenue from Alameda Municipal Power to the city’s general fund.

    Spencer’s statement argues that the tax measure does not restrict the funds from being used for public employee salary increases, instead of parks, libraries and other services for city residents; Alameda firefighters, are, of course, among those public employees, and the firefighters’ political committee spent $2,000 in Hayward in June to help pass Measure D, a similar utility users tax measure.

    Ashcraft motioned for herself and Oddie, who had just moments earlier voted against putting the measure under discussion on the ballot, to form the ballot argument committee, saying that she “wants the opportunity to highlight the strengths of the city’s [rent control] measure.”

    Spencer, who voted against putting the Utility Modernization Act measure on the ballot, objected, on the grounds that the two councilmembers who voted against putting the measure on the ballot shouldn’t be in charge of writing the arguments in favor of it.

    Oddie shot back, in an indirect reference to Spencer’s arguments against the utility tax measure, without mentioning her by name, that the duo would do the city’s measure justice, and that even though they voted against putting the rent control measure on the ballot, they wouldn’t, “unlike other councilmembers, undermine” that body’s work.

    In the end, council voted unanimously to have Ashcraft and Oddie form the committee, work with city staff to craft ballot statements, and allow for other councilmembers to sign their names to the arguments if they so choose.

    Arguments “for” and “against” the measure are due August 18th, and rebuttals are due August 25th.

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