The initiative sponsored by the Alameda Renters Coalition to amend the City Charter to restrict rent increases and prohibit “no-cause” evictions is still seeking a champion among the candidates running for Council.
In fact, based on their public statements, none of the five Council candidates is backing the ARC initiative. Three candidates – incumbent Councilman Tony Daysog; former Councilwoman Lena Tam, and Oracle key account director and first-time candidate Jennifer Roloff – oppose the Charter amendment. Another candidate, incumbent Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, told us she “do[es] not support” the ARC initiative, and the fifth, Teamsters lawyer and first-time candidate Malia Vella, stated recently that she is “neutral” about it.
By contrast, three candidates – Mr. Daysog, Ms. Ashcraft, and Ms. Roloff – are publicly supporting the Council-sponsored ballot measure incorporating the “rent stabilization” ordinance that neither caps rent increases nor bans no-cause evictions. And neither Ms. Tam nor Ms. Vella has come out publicly against the law passed by Council.
The position taken by Ms. Vella, whose bid for office is being promoted by the leading lights and lesser acolytes of the Inner Ring as well as by the Alameda firefighters’ union and other labor PACs, is especially noteworthy.
One wouldn’t have blamed ARC or its members for thinking Ms. Vella would endorse their initiative. After all, she had lined up with the “renter speakers” at both of the public meetings held at the Kofman Auditorium at which rent control was being debated, and her rhetoric has suggested a commitment to their cause. “There is no right to a profit,” she told the crowd on February 16. “It really is the purpose of government to provide justice,” she admonished Council two weeks later. And, as we have previously reported, she counts among her biggest boosters the same union honchos who profess their allegiance to the renters’ plan.
Nevertheless, when Ms. Vella was asked directly about rent control at the Alameda Citizens Task Force forum last week, she stated that she was “neutral” about the ARC initiative. She added that she also would have been “neutral” about the diametrically opposite initiative proposed by landlords to ban rent control altogether (had it qualified for the ballot). Ms. Vella also said that, although she opposed putting the rent-stabilization ordinance on the ballot – “it confuses the issue” – she believed the ordinance itself “can be fixed.”
Ms. Vella’s campaign website does not address the rent control issue – by contrast, the website for the other first-time Council candidate, Jennifer Roloff, provides a detailed statement of her position – so the Merry-Go-Round sent her an email inviting her to elaborate upon her stance. Although she had replied to an earlier inquiry from us about another statement she made at the A.C.T. meeting, she did not offer any further comment about rent control.
If ARC is disappointed by the lack of support for the initiative from the Council candidates generally – or from Ms. Vella in particular – the group isn’t saying – at least to us. We asked Eric Strimling, ARC’s communications liaison who has answered our questions in the past, for his reaction, but he did not respond.
Had we been the spokesman for ARC, we probably would have dismissed the failure by any candidate, even Ms. Vella, to endorse the initiative as immaterial, since we think the people running for Council need support from the renters’ coalition far more than the renters’ coalition needs support from the office seekers. An endorsement by a Council candidate is unlikely to sway a voter who hasn’t already made up her mind about the initiative; an endorsement by the renters’ coalition might tip the scales for a voter trying to choose among five Council candidates.
Still, if we were running ARC, Ms. Vella’s position might make us wonder how much renters could trust her if she is elected. If the initiative passes, will she then throw off the cloak of “neutrality” and work assiduously to implement rent control and the no-cause eviction ban? Or if the initiative doesn’t pass, will she then find merit in the landlords’ proposal – about which she says she was also “neutral” – for an entirely different regime?
Bernie Sanders she ain’t. Hillary Clinton? Well, both Ms. Vella and Secretary Clinton did go to Wellesley.
Four of the five candidates spoke at the A.C.T. forum – Ms. Ashcraft declined the invitation – and all five except Ms. Vella replied to our follow-up inquiries.
Not surprisingly, having voted originally for the rent-stabilization ordinance and later for putting it on the ballot, both of the incumbents running for re-election endorsed Measure L1, the Council-sponsored ballot measure.
The ordinance “was approved after several well-attended public hearings, as well as many meetings with tenants, tenant advocacy groups, landlords and property managers,” Ms. Ashcraft stated. “It provides significant tenant protections and supports maintenance of safe, habitable rental housing units. As an ordinance, it can be modified by the Council to address new information and changing economic circumstances.”
For his part, Mr. Daysog explained that he supported the Council-sponsored ballot measure and opposed the ARC initiative because “I prefer the L1 mediation model, in which landlords and tenants (in conjunction with the Rent Review Advisory Board) work things out in striking mutually agreed-upon reasonable rent increases.” He added:
Since March of this year, landlords who have gone through the new rent review process have struck reasonable rent increases mutually agreed to with tenants, largely because these landlords know that with the new power of binding arbitration, the rent review process will not allow excessive rent increases. In short, L1 is working in stopping excessive rent increases – so let’s stick with it.
Of the challengers, Ms. Roloff’s views are closest to those of the incumbents.
“We need to keep our Alameda tenants in their homes, and we need to allow responsible landlords to earn enough revenue to support their lives and their business,” she writes on her campaign website. “I believe that Measure L1 offers us an opportunity to work towards that end.” By contrast, she states, “I don’t believe that Measure M1 [the ARC initiative] will meet the needs of Alameda’s tenants or landlords.”
Ms. Roloff then goes on to discuss two principal reasons for her position. First, like Ms. Ashcraft, she points out that the Council-sponsored measure enables Council to modify the rent-stabilization ordinance as needed whereas the Charter amendment proposed by ARC can be changed only by a vote of the people. In addition, she says, the ARC initiative replaces the “dispute resolution system” created by the ordinance with a wide-ranging “regulatory system.” Like Mr. Daysog, Ms. Roloff “favor[s] giving the dispute resolution process a chance to work, before moving to a more stringent process.”
On her campaign website, and in her response to us, former Councilwoman Tam makes clear that she, too, opposes the ARC initiative. The measure “is estimated to cost $3.7M to implement with a separate elected rent control board,” she writes. “It pits property owners against tenants and will hurt Alameda homeowners in the long run.” She continues:
I think it is critical for tenants and property owners to have a working relationship, as they both need each other. It is important for both groups to work with the City to address the housing crisis in our community. Rent control will create more problems in the long run in trying to solve our community’s needs for affordable housing.
Ms. Tam’s comments suggest that she approves of the principles cited as underlying the rent-stabilization ordinance, but she has not expressly endorsed the Council-sponsored ballot measure incorporating the ordinance and she told the A.C.T. forum that she “ha[s] problems” with both ballot measures. So we’re going to leave her in the “uncommitted” column for the Council-sponsored measure.
So there you have the views expressed by the four out of five Council candidates willing to take a stand. For Alamedans for whom rent control is the issue driving their vote, the bottom line appears to be this: If you think that the rent stabilization ordinance passed by Council is the way to go, mark your ballot for Ms. Ashcraft, Mr. Daysog, or Ms. Roloff. If you object to the ARC initiative, vote for two of those three or for Ms. Tam. But if, on the other hand, you think that current conditions in the rental market demand rent control and a no-cause eviction ban, you’ll have to write in Catherine Pauling, Monty Heying, or some other ardent advocate for ARC. None of the candidates already on the ballot deserves your vote.
And, of course, for voters who don’t really care about the rent control issue one way or the other, there’s always Ms. Vella.