Allegations of misleading and incorrect information are rampant on both sides of the fight over a petition to repeal Richmond’s Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance ahead of the petition’s September 4 deadline.
The ordinance targeted by the petition narrowly passed on August 5th after contentious debate among the Richmond City Council members. Proponents of rent control and Just Cause evictions cite rising rents and accelerating gentrification in the City as the main reasons for the need of these renter protections. Opponents argue that the ordinance does not address the root of the problem and will do more harm than good in the short and long term. Like many issues of controversy, there are also opponents who are fundamentally opposed to the concept of rent control.
This fundamental disagreement impassions both camps to do everything they see fit to win the fight over the petition. According to pro-rent control activists who have been presented with the petition, some signature-gatherers may be providing misleading information.
“People that were conducing [the petition] told us that we were signing something to support rent control and help people who were getting their rent raised and being evicted,” says Sasha Gram, a Richmond resident who signed the petition to repeal rent control. Gram later learned from a neighbor the true intention of the petition.
“We felt really embarrassed and upset that we were putting our names on something we don’t support,” Gram explains.
David Sharples of the Richmond branch of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), which is leading the push in opposition of the petition, understands the tactic. “If [petitioners] stand in front of Safeway and say there’s a petition to overturn rent control paid for by landlords, then not too many people are going to sign the petition,” Sharples says. The ACCE organizer believes that misleading the public is the only way the petitioners will be able to gather the over 4,100 signatures needed to repeal the ordinance.
The organization behind the petition has not identified itself, though both the California Apartment Association, a lobbying group which represents landlords, and the Contra Costa Association of Realtors are pushing for its support.
“Our main concern with the ordinance is that the City Council is looking to slow down gentrification to help residents in the City of Richmond and is saying that rent control is the way to do it, when clearly it’s been shown in surrounding cities that it doesn’t work,” explains Heather Schiffmen, Director of Government Affairs at the Contra Costa Association of Realtors.
To Schiffmen, the City’s Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance is already backfiring.
“We’re hearing from members who provide Section 8 housing in contract with the City that are now terminating their contracts because Just Cause is so difficult to prove. So the problem that City Council had of seeing that the affordable housing stock is diminishing is going to increase a lot.”
Until more affordable housing is built in the city, which would provide relief for the tightening rental market, advocates of rent control and Just Cause see the ordinance as an immediate solution to help renters. These opponents of the petition to overturn rent control are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that it fails.
This bloc, which includes ACCE, members of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), have myriad tactics of their own, some of which include providing their own misinformation.
An RPA flier circulated around the City last week states that rent control protects “more than 25,000 Richmond residents”from rent increases, when in fact the rent control ordinance passed in August will protect less than 10,000. The flier also states that if passed the petition will cost the city $200,000 to put the issue on the ballot, when this would only be the case if a Special Election was required, which would be up to the City Attorney to determine. If the petition is successful, the issue would likely be on the ballot during the November 2016 election at no significant cost to the City of Richmond.
Also unclear is the amount of money each camp is throwing behind the issue. The Richmond Standard reported that petitioners collecting signatures are earning anywhere between $6.50 to $12.50 per signature, an amount which varies depending on the source.
Meanwhile, the Standard’s sources estimate that the SEIU’s robocall campaign to discourage Richmond voters from signing the petition could cost thousands of dollars.
Various information on each side of the campaign is both misleading and conflicting, but there is no shortage of literature available for members of the public to inform their decisions.
The petition’s September 4 deadline looms ever closer, at which time the petitioners will turn in their signatures for review by the Richmond City Clerk, a process which could take a month to sort through. If they are successful, the Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance will be repealed and given to Richmond voters to decide. Alternatively, if the campaign fails to gather the necessary signatures, rent control and Just Cause for Eviction will go into effect immediately.
In the meantime, Gram has some words of wisdom for anyone presented with a petition to repeal rent control or any other petition in the future: “Try to be informed, and ask questions, and really read those ballots to make sure you know what you’re signing.”
Photo: The Epoch Times