Pity the poor postal workers who’ve had to sort and deliver the plethora of political mailers to Alameda households this election season.
But take heart, Alamedans. You don’t have to read ’em all. Today, the Merry-Go-Round offers a rule of thumb for routing the stack to the appropriate receptacle: The more cash an organization has to spend, the less trustworthy its campaign literature will be.
And, no, we’re not talking just about Alamedans United, the misnamed cabal funded by out-of-town unions and developers to foist a pro-labor, pro-development slate on the local electorate.
Alamedans United’s mailers, particularly its hit pieces, are so puerile they’re amusing, albeit unintentionally. (More on that later.) But the flyers put out by the “independent expenditure” committees opposing Measure M1, the rent-control initiative, are no laughing matter. Indeed, they’re serious enough to be dangerous if they misstate or overstate their case – which they do.
Take the mailers paid for by the California Apartment Association Issues Committee. This committee, an offshoot of the outfit describing itself as “the nation’s largest statewide trade group representing owners, investors, developers, managers and suppliers of apartment communities,” was formed to oppose rent-control ballot measures in five Bay Area cities, including Alameda. The latest campaign disclosure reports filed with the state show that through October 21 the committee has spent $151,549.73 specifically to oppose Measure M1.
The CAA committee sent out its first mailer a couple of weeks ago, but, unless you looked closely, you wouldn’t know it came from the apartment owners’ group. Instead, on the front and back, the mailer used the name and logo of the “Legislative Analyst’s Office, The California Legislature’s Non-partisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor.” And it proclaimed, front and back, that “California’s Legislative Analyst Shows that Measure M1 Hurts Renters & Alameda.”
In fact, the LAO – an organization that really does exist – never “showed” any such thing.
Open the booklet and – under the same headline, now used for the third time – you’ll see text from an “Official Affordable Housing Report – February 9, 2016.” On that date, the LAO did indeed publish a “brief” entitled, “Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing,” which included the quoted text. But the brief hardly could have been intended as an analysis, much less a condemnation, of Measure M1. Indeed, the initiative wasn’t even filed till a month later.
The more fundamental problem is that the quote from the LAO is taken wildly out of context. Last year, the LAO issued a report arguing that the remedy for the statewide housing shortage was to build more market-rate housing. In the February 2016 brief, it took on the more difficult task of showing that this strategy would solve the statewide affordable housing crisis as well.
Many critics – including elected officials like San Francisco Supervisor David Campos and experts like those at Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies – found the LAO’s argument unpersuasive. (So did we.) But the LAO’s point in the paragraph quoted by the CAA was not that rent control “hurts renters.” It was that, in the LAO’s view, rent control was not an effective way to increase the supply of affordable housing – or at least not as effective a way as the LAO’s preferred alternative. A pot shot, maybe; a full-barreled assault, hardly.
The CAA committee followed up its original mailer with a second one that also garbled the LAO’s conclusions. More campaign literature may be on the way from Sacramento in the two weeks remaining before the election, but recently the most prolific sender of anti-rent control mailers has been another committee called “Real Rent Control for Alameda, Yes on L1, No on M1.”
This group, whose headquarters are on Webster Street, is giving CAA a run for its money in spending cash to defeat Measure M1. Through September 24, contributions totaled $50,005.33, led by $10,922.67 from Gallagher & Lindsey, the local real-estate firm. Then, on October 3, two apartment-complex owners from Walnut Creek with properties in Alameda – Tower Apartments and Ballena Apartments – dropped $50,000 apiece into the pot. After that, the original funders, again led by Gallagher & Lindsey, added another $40,789.34.
By our count, “Real Rents” has sent out five mailers opposing the rent-control initiative (and supporting the “rent stabilization” ordinance adopted by Council). Real Rents sounds many of the same alarms as the CAA does, but its flyers tend to be less audacious than the CAA’s. For example, both groups cite the cost of administering the regime established by Measure M1 – stated to be $3.7 million – as a reason to vote against the measure. The Real Rents mailer argues that this administrative cost will “siphon resources”from other City services, and stops there. The latest CAA mailer goes a step further: Measure M1, it says, “forces” the City to impose a new “rent control tax.”
Both claims distort the facts. Start with the $3.7 million. As far as we can tell, that figure comes from one sentence in a staff report presented to Council on July 5: “The consulting firm that conducted the fee study for the City’s rent program has prepared a fiscal analysis, based on similar rent programs in Berkeley and Santa Monica that largely mirror the rent program under the Renters’ Initiative, and estimates the cost to administer that program to be $234/rental unit, or $3 million–$3.7 million annually, depending on the number of units covered by the Initiative.”
No further details are given, and the “fiscal analysis” itself is not attached to the staff report. We don’t suspect that staff or the consultants made up the figures, but they don’t purport to represent a rock-solid number. (Indeed, the mailer recently sent out by the City comparing the two ballot measures pegs the cost of administering Measure M1 at $3.3 million.)
[October 24 update: At our request, Community Development Director Debbie Potter forwarded us a copy of the “fiscal analysis” to which the staff report refers. From the two-page memo, it appears that the consultants looked at the annual registration fees charged by City of Berkeley and the City of Santa Monica and decided, for reasons that are not entirely clear to us, to use the former number as the basis for estimating the costs associated with M1.]
Even more troubling is the implicit assumption in both the CAA and the Real Rent mailers that the cost of administering the M1 program will be paid entirely from the General Fund. That simply isn’t so. In fact, section 6(n) of the ballot measure states that the costs of enforcing the new law “shall be funded” by a “rental housing fee” charged to landlords in an amount to be set by the Rental Control Board. This mechanism is no different than the one established by the City’s own rent stabilization ordinance, which imposes a “program fee” on landlords to cover its costs.
The M1 opponents could argue – and they have – that it is “unfair” to make landlords pay for the “benefits” the initiative provides to tenants. But it is misleading to imply that it is the taxpayers who actually will be footing the bill.
The Real Rent mailers harp on one other theme in a way we find disturbing. In the earliest versions, the flyers claimed that Measure M1 made it “difficult or impossible” for landlords to evict “bad” tenants, which subsequent mailers defined as “tenants engaged in disruptive or illegal behavior.” The latest version, which arrived in our mailbox Friday, is even harsher: Measure M1, it contends, “[m]akes it nearly impossible to evict tenants engaged in criminal activity.” (emphasis supplied)
Oh, yeah? True, Measure M1 prohibits landlords from evicting tenants except for one of the enumerated causes. But nowhere does the measure exclude “criminal activity” from the list of evictable offenses. To the contrary, section 5(c) states that eviction is permitted where the “Tenant has continued, after the Landlord has served the Tenant with a written notice to cease, to commit or expressly permit a nuisance in, or cause substantial damage to, the Rental Unit.” We don’t hold ourselves out as landlord-tenant lawyers, but we’re pretty sure that the courts would find that the term “nuisance” encompasses “criminal activity.”
Perhaps the intent of this argument is to distinguish Measure M1 from the Council-adopted ordinance, which also makes committing or permitting a nuisance an evictable offense, but which dispenses with the notice requirement “if the Tenant’s conduct is illegal activity, has caused substantial damage to the Rental Unit or the common area of the rental complex, or poses an immediate threat to public health or safety.” If so, this distinction gets lost in the hype about M1 rendering landlords unable “to remove drug dealers and problem tenants from their buildings.”
We could go on with the critique. But we hope our point has been made. We don’t expect campaign literature to be “objective”; it is supposed to be argumentative. Nevertheless, it bothers us when the advocates mangle the facts to suit their purposes. We think Alameda voters would be better served if they threw out all of the mailers and made up their minds about Measure M1 after reading the debate among Eric Strimling, Monty Heying, Paul Foreman, H. MacKenzie and others that can be found in the comments section for our piece on the rent control initiative.
And now for the comic relief.
Yes, it’s time to talk again about Alamedans United, the committee formed by the firefighters’ and grocery workers’ unions that, through October 5, has taken in $42,250 from out‑of‑town labor union PACs and $10,000 from out‑of‑town real estate developers. (Total contributions stand at $56,750). We don’t think the group intended its mailers to be funny, but, after reading them, it’s hard not to laugh.
Alamedans United began its campaign with a mailer whose headline was “Join Us Make History.” Immediately below were photos of Hillary Clinton and Barbara Lee, followed by photos of the three women on the slate of six candidates Alamedans United is pushing for local office. Honor by association, we guess you could call it.
But when we checked their campaign websites, we found that none of the local candidates pictured in the mailer actually lists Secretary Clinton or Congresswoman Lee as an endorser. So it’s not quite clear how close the ties really are between the national and Alameda candidates. Of course, maybe one is supposed to assume – Donald Trump would – that, since they’re all women, they must support each other.
Since then, Alamedans United has devoted itself to mailers pillorying incumbent Councilman Tony Daysog and promoting Alameda-born, San Leandro-raised Teamster lawyer and Mills College “visiting scholar” Malia Vella.
As our readers will recall, the first hit piece accused Mr. Daysog of being “anti-senior” because he voted with the Council majority to overturn a Planning Board decision declaring “senior assisted living” to be a permitted use at a site located about a mile from the end of the runways at the Oakland Airport. This week, we got another mailer from Alamedans United charging Mr. Daysog with a far greater sin: He’s a Republican – or at least he suffers from pronounced Republican tendencies!
The latest accusation bears the fingerprints of one of Alamedans United’s co-founders, United Commercial and Food Workers Union Local 5 communications director Mike Henneberry, who is known for using “Republican” as a pejorative. (See, for example, how he trashes City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy in op-eds published in 2011 and 2015.) In Mr. Henneberry’s universe, a Republican is the lowest form of life – except for, possibly, a banker.
But Alamedans United has had to doctor the evidence to justify calling Mr. Daysog an ersatz Republican. Let’s look at the statements cited in the mailer as demonstrating the Councilman’s perverse political affiliation.
No. 1: “When asked how he differentiates himself from his opponents, says: ‘I’M THE ONLY MALE CANDIDATE. . . .”
Putting to one side the oddity of the drafters’ equating gender with political party – but remember that initial mailer! – red flags go up whenever a quote ends, as this one does, with an ellipsis. Here’s the full quote, taken from Mr. Daysog’s response to the Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus questionnaire (with emphasis supplied):
I’M THE ONLY MALE CANDIDATE . . . JUST KIDDING . . . I DON’T TAKE CAMPAIGN DONATIONS FROM SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS AND PACS . . . I’M AN URBAN PLANNER . . . I’M INDEPENDENT AND BASE MY DECISIONS ON BEST PRACTICES GLEANED FROM MY URBAN PLANNING EDUCATION AND PROFESSIONAL WORK EXPERIENCE
So not only was Mr. Daysog’s statement literally true – of the five candidates seeking the APADC endorsement, four were women – it was meant as a joke. (Incidentally, the hit piece correctly notes that Mr. Daysog “failed to secure [the APADC] endorsement.” But it doesn’t mention that Ms. Vella herself tried, and failed, to get the nod. In fact, only Council candidate endorsed by the organization was former Councilwoman Lena Tam.)
We’ll skip the ellipsis-laden second statement attributed to Mr. Daysog, since its source is identified as the East Bay Citizen, a willing outlet for farcical charges against Mr. Daysog. So on to No. 3: “Calls Democrat Hillary Clinton a Republican, as though electing the first woman President in this environment is a laughing matter.”
Although only the url is given, this quote is taken from a source well-known to us: the comments section for our piece last May about which Democratic presidential candidate our Council members supported. Mr. Daysog told us he was backing Secretary Clinton and then posted a follow-up comment:
I contributed to Clinton in 2008 – I think something like $50. Also: I did contribute to Clinton this year by way of purchasing my signs (cha ching: $20!). As an aside: my running gag line to the Bernie folks I often see at the Farmers’ Market when they ask who I’m supporting has been that, “while I am still a registered Democrat, as a quasi-Republican (albeit quasi moderate-Republican), of course I’ll support the Republican on the ballot – Hillary Clinton!’” That’s a gag, folks. (emphasis supplied)
Another joke by Mr. Daysog, another clumsy edit by Alamedans United. Let’s just hope the cabal’s creative team doesn’t know how to Photoshop, or the next thing you know we’ll be getting a mailer picturing the pro-labor, pro-development slate being blessed by the Pope while Franklin D. Roosevelt and Rosa Parks look on.
We’ll end by noting the irony in the latest mailer. The headline on one side reminds voters that, “THIS ELECTION IS NO LAUGHING MATTER,” a statement that can’t be made about the flyer itself. It continues: “VOTE FOR LEADERS WHO’LL SAY WHAT THEY STAND FOR.” The bottom half of the page then is devoted to touting Ms. Vella’s candidacy.
But, of all the candidates running for Council, guess who is the only one who has refused to take a stand on Measure M1, the rent-control initiative? That’s right: Ms. Vella.
Almost every weeknight, we watch Rachel Maddow, who delights in taking apart the latest absurdity uttered by Donald Trump. Having read the mailers sent to local voters, we’ve begun to wonder whether Alamedans United and its fellow “independent expenditure” committees have hired the Donald as their media adviser. Maybe Rachel’s Mom, Elaine, a mainstay of the Redwood Canyon Women’s Golf Club, can ask her to dig into this for us.
Measure L1: alameda_rent_stablization_act_-_full_text
July 5, 2016 staff report: 2016-07-05 staff report re rent control initiatives
May 25, 2016 SCI Consulting Group memo re costs of initiative: memo-cost-and-fee-estimate-for-proposed-alameda-renter-protection-initiative-r5
California Apartment Association Issues Committee (Filer ID No.1388537) campaign finance disclosures: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1388537&view=electronic
Real Rent Control for Alameda (Filer ID No.1390679) campaign finance disclosures: http://nf4.netfile.com/Pub2/AllFilingsByFiler.aspx?id=161739506
Alamedans United campaign finance disclosures can be found on the City Clerk’s website: http://docs.ci.alameda.ca.us/WebLink8/Browse.aspx?startid=310100&row=1&dbid=0