Stand up and be counted

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.

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in City Council, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Stand up and be counted

  1. MP says:

    The minutes of the Aug 8 City Council meeting have not yet been approved/published, but I recall Ms. Ashcraft voting against placing the City Council ordinance on the ballot. She gave a strong defense of the ordinance at the meeting and took strong issue with certain statements at the meeting by members of the ARC, but I believe she ended up voting against placing the current ordinance on the ballot, citing the length of the ballot this year as the reason for that position.

  2. wordist45 says:

    “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.”

    Thanks for the compliment, but I have ZERO political ambitions. It would be a wasted vote. I have far too much fun, and freedom, sitting on the sidelines taking potshots at all sides. Someone has to keep the politicians honest; the journalists are too busy selling advertising..

  3. I don’t agree with your conclusion…”for voters who don’t really care about the rent control issue one way or the other, there’s always Ms. Vella.” If a voter is going with the ARC initiative charter amendment, and it comes out on top, it’s irrelevant what any candidate says. On the hand, if the city ordinance comes out on top, or neither achieves 50% + 1, then the philosophy and worldview of the newly-elected, or re-elected, councilmembers is very relevant because the existing ordinance will stand as law and will be available, or vulnerable, as the case may be, to change or alteration.

    Based on the quotes cited above, candidate Vella is the only one who used the words “it can be fixed,” implying that there is an inherent flaw in the current ordinance. The other candidates used different language – “it can be modified” (Ashcraft, Roloff), OK-as-is (Daysog), and “has problems with both” (Tam).

    “It can be modified” means maybe yes, maybe no, maybe water it down. “Has problems with both” can mean the candidate doesn’t like either one and would prefer no laws whatsoever governing behavior of landlords. Voting comes down to values, or perceived values, in candidates. “It can be modified” and “problems with both” are homogenized wishy-washy.

    Then there is candidate Vella’s quotes: “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. With statements like that, I don’t see how the author can so easily utter, “Bernie Sanders she ain’t.” Those two statements are the most Sanders-like of any that I’ve read or heard so far.

    For voters who care about renters and their lives, “there’s always Ms. Vella.” Values matter.

    • dave says:

      Vella has been pretty strong in support of rent control in Twitter feed,etc. But remember she is a Bonta protege, so obfuscation when asked directly is to be expected.

    • MP says:

      I don’t necessarily agree that it is irrelevant who is elected to City Council if M1 passes. Among other reasons, the Council would serve as the Rent Control Board under M1 until a special election would have to be called and held to separately elect a new Rent Control Board under M1. There also appear to be budgetary reasons as M1 calls for the City to front the M1 budget for a period of time.

      That Ms. Vella seeks the support of M1 supporters, while at the same time taking a “neutral” position on M1 may reflect that she is, in fact, neutral (meaning, I guess, that she does not favor it and does not oppose it, or maybe that she just does not want to say what her position is; “neutral” is such a neutral term) or it may reflect a desire to attract votes of people who favor M1 and those who don’t. Or it could mean both things. A skilled politician can pull that off.

      One thing that seems to distinguish Ms. Vella from the Bernie Sanders type is the amount of time she seems to spend with long-established politicians (County, State, Fed.), at least when you look at the photographs she and her campaign put out. You can read a lot of things into that from simple affinity to something more like ambitions to move up and beyond Alameda. There is nothing inherently wrong with either, but I get that impression.

    • carol says:

      “There is no right to a profit” is a purely socialist statement. Malia Vella is a socialist.
      Yesterday while I was watching Bret Baier on Fox News cable, at about 3:50 PM, what should appear on the tube but an anti-Measure M1 commercial! Sponsored (in very small print) by the California Apartment Association. You could barely tell the Measure was for Alameda. I am surprised: is this aimed at a national audience or what? Seems to me people regularly watching Fox News don’t need to be converted to that viewpoint.

      • Eric Strimling says:

        Amazing! The real estate investors have so much money invested in stopping rent control. I wonder why? How much profit are they pulling out of Alameda, do you suppose?

  4. A Neighbor says:

    “There is no right to a profit?” What planet does she live on?

    • Tim S. says:

      True. Profit is king, even if people end up homeless.

    • dave says:

      There is no right a profit. There is, however, the right to EARN a profit. Not every business does, but they have to right to try.

      There is also the right to do with one’s property as one sees fit. Both renters and landlords have that right, or had it until the ordinance was passed. Renters’ property, be it cars or bank accounts or even real property (there are some who both own and rent) is still their own. Landlords’ property has been partially seized

      There is also the right to freely earn a living. Renters can get raises & bonuses when times are flush. Landlords can’t anymore. Renters can change jobs freely. Landlords have to cough up a 5 figure ransom to change their job, which can be more than a year’s income from a unit.

      Vella is correct, there is no right to a profit But there are many other rights that rent controls steals from property owners. Apparently she not recognize those rights.

  5. Steve Gerstle says:

    Where on Malia Vella’s campaign website does she take a position on any of the local ballot measures?

  6. Tim S. says:

    Marilyn Ashcraft also “counts among her biggest boosters the same union honchos who profess their allegiance to the renters’ plan.” Her position “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.”

    Ashcraft first rallied in support of placing the city’s rent ordinance on the ballot in order to defeat the renters’ measure. Later she refrained from voting in favor of placing the ordinance on the ballot and two minutes later pleaded to write the ballot argument in support of it.

  7. wordist45 says:

    (Just released to local media, along with documentation for fact-checking)

    A $3.7 Million Lie

    Alameda’s city management publicizes on its web site a politically motivated and grossly overstated $4.3 million estimate of the operating budget for Measure M1’s Charter Amendment. Councilmember Jim Oddie published a commentary in both local newspapers emphasizing this fraudulent $4.3 million, and the realty opposition echoed the cry in TV commercials. Photos of the mayor and Member Oddie appear in campaign mailers declaring M1’s $3.7 million cost as “Too Expensive,” including a fraudulent four-page piece purporting to be from the Legislative Analyst Office, for which the LAO denies responsibility. Everywhere signs tout the fraudulent $3.7 million purported “cost of Measure M1.”
    We have a right to our own opinion, but not our own facts.
    The source of the $3.7 million is the City’s consultant, SCI, who was contracted to conduct a fee study for the City’s new rent program, (NOT for the Alameda Renter Coalition’s charter amendment, Measure M1.) To arrive at $4.3 million for M1, City management simply tacked-on another $600,000 for the special election for M1’s Rent Board. The $600K is a one-time start-up cost, and including this one-time expense in the annual operating budget is a deliberate distortion designed to frighten voters.
    The $3.7 million itself is grossly overstated, and the $4.3 million borders on fraud. Both exaggerated amounts are designed to mislead voters so that Measure M1’s Charter Amendment will fail.
    I obtained and analyzed SCI’s supporting materials and found that the $3.7 million for M1 was nowhere to be found in their written report. None of the detailed analysis performed on the City’s ordinance was performed for the $3.7 million. None! SCI’s analysis for the ordinance was thorough and competent, but the $3.7 million for M1 was at best an ill-intentioned guess.
    A consultant who wants to live well keeps the client happy. The City of Berkeley has the highest per-unit program fee in California. For M1, SCI merely used the City of Berkeley’s fee of $234 multiplied by Alameda’s 14,899 rental units, then padded their number for some vague undefined legal costs to create their fantastic 3.7. SCI made no attempt to explain why their 3.7 million for Measure M1 was double the $1.8 million budget developed by Alameda Renter Coalition (“ARC”.)

    ARC used $120/unit, a reasonable fee compared with West Hollywood’s $120/unit, or Oakland’s $30/unit, or
    Los Angeles’ $24.48. Why did SRI choose the highest program fee in California? Because SRI knew City Management was hostile to rent control and wanted a high number to make M1 look bad compared to the City’s $2 million for their Measure L1.

    I’m retired CPA and financial executive. I smelled a rat at the Council meeting when the SCI consultant presented. I was struck by his lack of documentation for the huge M1 estimate–no charts or graphs and zero analysis. He merely referred to costs in other cities and something vague about legal costs. The follow-up from the dais was pitiful. No councilmember asked why the consultant’s number was $2 million more than ARC’s estimate and almost twice their own estimate for the City’s ordinance, a cumbersome law far more complex than M1, coverings 36% more activity by attempting to regulate units that are exempt from rent control by state or federal law.
    The $3.7 million cannot be justified, and the play it is getting from City management and the realty opposition is highly suspicious. Our City management has perjured itself in a material and highly visible manner. How can we now believe anything they say? Consider this when you are filling out your ballot.

  8. steve says:

    Editor
    I was not attacking his character. he stated he is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), but he is not certified in California and his certificate was revoked in Texas (just fact checking,proof was provided). He also stated that he is not in this for gain, so i do not expect to see him employed by the rent control board.
    Thank you

  9. steve says:

    Name Job title Total pay & benefits
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Norma Diaz Billing Coordinator- Rent Cntl $127607
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Laima M Noseworthy Budget Office Coordinator $196910
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Jean E Phillips Database Coordinator $130661
    Santa Monica, 2015
    John Lewis General Counsel $256502
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Lynn G Naliboff Hearing Examiner II $219552
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Lisa A Hollingworth Hearing Examiner II $211548
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Marla B Kraus Hearing Examiner II $50055
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Keith J Kresge Hearing Examiner II $40210
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Alan Seltzer Hearing Examiner II $6990
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Pete L Savino Hearing Investigator $133751
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Amy J Regalado Hearings Manager $241647
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Guillermina Monarrez Legal Secretary II $143913
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Santosh W Berlin Legal Secretary II $135196
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Laura Phillips Legal Secretary II $131973
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Neil Wessel Public Information Manager $231005
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Tracy H Condon Rent Control Administrator $289507
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Melissa S Collins Rent Control Hearings Spec $103767
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Wessel, Neil J Sr Admin Analyst-Rent Control $176601.11
    Santa Monica, 2012
    Rebecca Sherman Sr Litigation Attorney $259110
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Eric A Hernandez Staff Assistant III – R/C $103413
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Nancy A Galvan Staff Assistant III – R/C $65731
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Hakhamanesh M Mortezaie Staff Attorney II $254540
    Santa Monica, 2015
    aura G Masatani Systems Admin/Programmer An $180270
    Santa Monica, 2015
    Hong Huynh Systems Admin/Programmer An $179022
    Santa Monica, 2015

    Total pay & benefits for 2015 $3993239.11

    This does not include the expense for running an office

    Even though there are 36000 rental units in Santa Monica (2014), you will need to staff a new agency with about the same number of people and the at the union negotiated salaries with benefits.

    (info from http://www.transparentcalifornia.com and http://www.smgov.net/Departments/HED/eddContent)

  10. steve says:

    According to the Santa Monica Rent Control Board Annual Report 2015, since changing the city charter to implement strict rent control they have lost over 9000 units out of 36000 units that could be rent controlled which is 25% (page 6) and the rate of lost units continues to grow (page 23). During this same time rents have sky rocked and affordable units have gone from 83% down to 4% (page 19) and long term renters have left. It seems that rent control has failed and as they add more restrictions and red tape they have get more units removed from the city. You can read it for yourself, it is public record and on line.

  11. steve says:

    just in case people are still reading this story, Here is the actual budget for Santa Monica’s rent control board. Once again, I know Santa Monica is larger than Alameda, but you will still need about the same staffing and office needs. Santa Monica’s actual budget was $4,721,848 for 2015.Do not take any ones word on anything make them show proof. My proof:
    https://www.smgov.net/uploadedFiles/Departments/Rent_Control/Reports/Budget_Reports/Adopted_Budget_2015-16.pdf

    read it for your self.
    My question is, who is going to pay for all of this? and who is going to benefit from it?

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