The Richmond Standard: Power, money influencing both sides of rent control debate in Richmond

Radio Free Richmond


Influential, deep-pocketed groups are reported to be behind efforts to repeal or maintain Richmond’s recently passed rent control and just cause eviction ordinance.

The ordinance, which passed City Council Aug. 5, has incited heated debate in the streets and on social media. Now, a petition to suspend the ordinance and let voters decide on the policy is being passed around town, fanning flames of supporters and opponents. Powerful backers on both sides of the issue are accusing each other of deliberately misinforming residents.

Over the weekend a petition began circulating in the city calling for a referendum to repeal the ordinance. If about 4,100 signatures are collected and verified, the ordinance will be suspended. City Council will then have to choose whether to repeal the ordinance or to place it on a ballot for voters to decide.

Soon after the petition began circulating, rent control advocates, including the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), cited complaints from residents of petition workers either misleading residents or flat out lying about the policy in order to obtain a signature. Allegations included petitioners telling residents the petition was in support of rent control. Petitioners are paid per signature by Pacific Petition, a San Francisco-based company, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Not all petitioners have been giving misleading information, however. Mayor Tom Butt, who is opposed to rent control, said the petition itself is accurate and he encouraged residents to read it before signing. The mayor also says petitioners are passing out accurate talking points.

The California Apartment Association, a powerful lobbying group representing the state’s landlords, is presumed to be behind the petition, although backers have thus far remained anonymous. For advocates of rent control, this has stoked fears about deep pockets influencing Richmond politics.

If this petition were circulated by volunteers, people who believe in what they are doing, I could respect that as part of democracy in action,” wrote Mike Parker, an RPA member, in a Facebook post, according to the Times. “But the fact that increasingly our referendum and initiative process belongs mainly to folks who consider $50,000 chump change should be of concern to everyone.”

Money and influence, however, are coming from both sides. In reaction to the petition, the powerful local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has more than 45,000 members in Northern California including Richmond city employees, paid for automated calls to residents warning them not to sign the petition. Sources estimate the calls likely cost a few thousand dollars, while the petition drive may cost in the tens of thousands.

SEIU has been a major supporter of rent control from the onset along with other unions, such as AFSCME Local 3299 and California Nurses Association. The effort has also had the support of various community groups and tenants rights advocates, such as the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Tenants Together.

Rent control advocates have also been accused of deceptive advertising. The Richmond Standard received an audio file with the robocall stating petitioners are being paid $6 per hour, when at the time the RPA reported elsewhere they were getting $6 per signature. Since then, the rate per signature has apparently increased to $12.50, according to the Times.

The RPA also passed around a flier containing misleading information about rent control, stating it protects 25,000 renters from excessive rent increases when it actually protects less than 10,000. The flyer also suggests suspending the ordinance could cost the city $200,000, but that would only be the case if a special election was required. If the petition succeeds, the issue would most likely be placed on ballot during the regular election cycle in November 2016.

Jeff Wright, a Richmond native, El Cerrito-based real estate broker and outspoken critic of rent control, says the RPA inaccurately depicts the issue. He says he agrees with the RPA’s Parker about the need for a representative form of government, and says the RPA should invite the possibility of the policy going before voters as part of the democratic process.

“The proponents of rent control are always trying to present themselves as having an ‘exclusive right’ and sole ownership of the moral high ground,” Wright said. “However, the information that they distribute is often highly ‘suspect’ if not flat out incorrect. ”

For a breakdown of the complex ordinance, visit here. To view the ordinance itself, go here.


Reposted from The Richmond Standard.

Showing 5 reactions

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  • Veronica Keeton
    commented 2015-08-31 13:54:57 -0700
    Well, well. the RPA councilmembers are owners. This is quite eye opening and makes their actions far worse and more devious than first thought. They knew what would happen. Renters/tenants got duped. Their rent control and just cause actions were never about renter protection, it was to fast gentrifications (just like Berkeley, Oakland, and
    Francisco). Congratulations RPA, I think you succeeded. You people are disgusting.
  • John Knox
    commented 2015-08-31 13:14:44 -0700
    Mike Parker and his ilk just care about one thing: extracting wealth from the owners of capital. They don’t care about the fallout, or the collateral damage, or the fact that most renters (especially prospective renters) will be harmed and not helped. They just want to press their socialist agenda as far as they can push it. This is just like the eminent domain fiasco: stick it to the banks, and who cares what happens to the city’s credit rating or other property owners or buyers who want to get mortgages. I sure hope the people of Richmond can see this agenda for what it really is.
  • Jael Myrick
    commented 2015-08-31 10:37:09 -0700
    Ms. Chenault,

    Just as a clarification there is only one renter on the City Council. Myself, Beckles & Martinez are all homeowners. Rent Control is certainly an imperfect tool, but may be necessary to preserve affordable housing units in Richmond. Anyway, we’ll see what happens with the signature campaign and go from there.
  • Stan Niedzwiedz
    commented 2015-08-31 08:29:54 -0700
    How hypocritical is Mike Parker’s statement that $50,000 spend allegedly by property owners group on defending their properties from unconstitutional taking by few rouge City Council members " ….should be concern to everyone".
    There is no mention though of forcibly extracting $2,000,000 plus from the same property owners every year for bureaucracy fees, not including lost rent, increased eviction costs and relocation fees, which would amount to additional millions of dollars.
    How about this for “chump change” Mr. Parker?
  • Terry Chenault
    commented 2015-08-31 08:11:42 -0700
    I do not understand why RPA thinks rent control will solve the rent spiking issue. It has not worked in San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley. My niece has a friend who is vacating an apartment in Pt. Richmond and my neice wants to move into the vacated unit. The current rent is $1000 a month. The landlord told my niece her rent would be $1300. After rent control was passed the landlord called my niece and told her because rent control had been passed the rent would now be $1900 for this one bedroom apartment. The landlord apologized but because of the extra fees and this new policy they needed to lock in a higher rent. So now she will be unable to afford to rent this apartment. How again is rent control a good thing ? I was told but do not for a fact know that all members of the City Council who voted for rent control are themselves renters and will personally benefit as a result of rent control because their own rent costs will be locked in at a low rate under rent control. How can that be legal or fair if true ?
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