A petition-gatherer collects signatures at Trader Joe’s.
The Alameda Renters Coalition, Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog, and landlords Farhad Matin and Marilyn Schumacher gather signatures for competing ballot measures regulating housing.
Standing on the corner of Central Avenue and Park Street on an unseasonably warm April afternoon, Charlie Edwards saw a group of pedestrians poised to cross the street. Edwards, 77, clipboard in hand, was gathering signatures to place a tenant-backed measure on the November ballot. “Look, here comes four,” he said. “I bet I get one of them; I bet you 25 cents.” The group passed Edwards and politely declined his overture.
Wrangling potential petition signers is always difficult. Edwards had corralled just six signatures in the prior 20 minutes, a small dent in the 9,000 signatures that the proponents of his measure, by the Alameda Renters Coalition, hoped to secure by the end of April. Some people were not registered to vote, others did not live in Alameda, and most simply had other things to do.
You can expect to see similar scenes over the next few months because signature gatherers from the Alameda Renters Coalition could soon be joined by supporters of at least two other potential rent-related ballot measures vying for your attention and support.
A group led by Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog filed a ballot measure seeking to roll back certain elements of the rent stabilization ordinance adopted March 1 by the City Council. Daysog’s proposal is a riff on his core criticism of the ordinance: its inclusion of relocation fees for evicted tenants of up to four month’s rent and an additional $1,500. “The relocation benefit is such a hammer that is going to fall heavily on these smaller landlords,” Daysog said.
Daysog’s ballot measure focuses on lowering the amount paid by local small-time property owners for relocation fees and exempts Alameda-based landlords who want to move family members or licensed caregivers into their units. That measure’s petition, not yet approved for circulation as of this writing, will not likely draw support from renters, and some Alameda landlords see it as divisive because it creates unfair benefits for local property owners over out-of-towners.
Soon after Daysog’s proposal surfaced, a third potential measure was filed by Alameda property owners Farhad Matin and Marilyn Schumacher. This one, a charter amendment measure that would ostensibly make rent control illegal in Alameda, is likely to collide with the Alameda Renters Coalition’s more robust set of proposed protections for renters, who make up roughly 55 percent of island residents.
“Obviously the voters are going to have some real choices this November,” said Catherine Pauling, the chief spokesperson for the Alameda Renters Coalition. The coalition filed its proposal with a Feb. 29 press conference on the steps of City Hall that preceded Pauling and others presenting the filing to the city clerk’s office. Shortly thereafter, the city manager’s office summoned police to engage the tenants milling around outside its offices without incident.
The coalition’s proposal seeks to stabilize rents by tying annual increases to a percentage of the Consumer Price Index, roughly around or below 2 percent. The proposal would also prohibit landlords from evicting tenants except with just cause. No such protections currently exist.
But while tenants abound in Alameda, their measure lacks financial support. An online crowdsourcing effort has raised almost $2,000 to cover fees and expenses, but it has mainly relied on volunteers and old-fashioned retail politics in an attempt to gather the requisite number of valid signatures to qualify for the November general election. Other efforts for ballot measures in Alameda this fall, such as the landlord’s proposal, are likely to be far better funded. “They have the bucks to do it,” Pauling said. “We don’t.”
Alameda resident and landlord Farhad Matin say the renters’ plan is more than rent control; it’s a “hostile takeover” of landlord property rights. Matin owns bold and ornately-painted houses that have been turned into apartments, and the buildings have proven to be popular attractions around town. He says the island’s character will suffer if the Renters Coalition proposal is approved by a majority of voters. “ARC is not offering a sustainable housing plan,” Matin said. “It’s purely punitive and it forces rental owners to subsidize their tenants.”
On April 5, Matin and well-known Alameda landlords’ advocate Schumacher filed a competing measure that, if approved, would prohibit any attempts at ever enacting rent control in Alameda. Matin says the proposed measure, which is awaiting a title and summary before it can be approved for circulation, is about preserving not only Alameda’s look and feel, but protecting the rights of private property owners. Just-cause evictions, as those prescribed in the Renters Coalition measure, for instance, will make it difficult for landlords to control the fate of their investments, Matin said. “The reason everyone wants to live here is because we are a diverse town with a very fair backbone.” He adds that the proposal does not exacerbate the city’s housing shortage but promotes community investment. It also provides a bulwark from the local government limiting the value of property owners land holdings.
Pending each measure’s ability to qualify for November, one thing is certain: Alamedans will not only be offered diametrically opposing ballot measures, but also radically different visions of its future. If the coalition’s proposal should pass, Matin argues, Alameda will be completely transformed for the worse. “You will see people reduce their investments in their buildings,” he said. “The standard and practice we have become accustomed to will disappear. Rents will skyrocket due to less available homes. Lawyers will have many more opportunities in Alameda to settle issues we have successfully tackled as a community for years.”
Pauling and Alameda Renters Coalition argue the current state of fear among renters in Alameda is bound to grow without help greater than what City Hall gave renters with the latest rent ordinance. If each proposal is brought before voters in November during a presidential campaign that seems likely to attract high voter participation, there is a possibility that any of them could achieve the simple majority needed for passage. In such an event, the measure with the highest number of votes would win.
All sides agree that the fate of Alameda is up for grabs.