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Santa Rosans to vote on rent control June 6

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OR, VOTE NO  Santa Rosa is split over controversial rent-control ordinance.
  • OR, VOTE NO Santa Rosa is split over controversial rent-control ordinance.
Santa Rosa vice mayor Jack Tibbetts says he struggled over Measure C, the June 6 ballot measure that could enact rent stabilization on some Santa Rosa properties while also creating a just-cause eviction policy for landlords.

The lawn signs announcing the upcoming vote are everywhere; they are huge, and in some parts of town it's practically neighbor-to-neighbor competition for the biggest sign on the block: Yes on C! No on C!

The gist of opponents' mailers showing up in Santa Rosans' mailboxes in recent days, paid for by a consortium of realtors and a local pushback campaign whose major funders come from the real estate industry, is that Measure C won't do anything to help with the city's chronic problem with homelessness and the related shortage of affordable housing. But Measure C doesn't set out to do either of those things, even if they're a huge priority for Santa Rosa voters on either side of the Measure C question.

Mailers pushing opposition to Measure C are rife with photos and testimonials from young, elderly, Latino, fixed-income and homeless Santa Rosans, all saying they won't support Measure C because it won't do anything for their particular housing problem. Those people aren't paying for the mailers, which were funded by Citizens for Fair & Equitable Housing (created by local opponents to Measure C), rental housing providers and Real Estate Professionals Opposing Measure C.

Opponents highlight that Measure C only applies to citizens living in some apartments built before 1995. "Anyone living in a single-family home, condominium, duplex, owner-occupied triplex or an apartment built after 1995 is not covered by the city's ordinance." It's an odd position to take for an effort driven by real estate interests. In effect the messages seems to be: We don't support rent stabilization in the first place, and even if we did, this ordinance wouldn't be of any use to most Santa Rosans.

According to the mailers, "major funding" for the "No on C" effort came from the statewide California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC and Woodmont Real Estate Services, a big property-management firm with offices in Sacramento, Belmont and Santa Rosa.

Tibbetts is supporting Measure C because of what it sets out to accomplish. "At its most fundamental level," he says, "Measure C will provide price predictability" for people currently living in housing that is affordable by design and built before 1995.

That's about 20 percent of all housing in Santa Rosa, leaving most rental properties free of any rent-control restrictions in a county where the average rents are among the highest in the country. Opponents argue that enacting rent control on 20 percent of properties could serve to raise the rent on everyone else.

If it passes, all landlords in town will be impacted by just-cause eviction language, which forbids them from booting tenants so they can, for example, raise the rent for the next tenant. Opponents to the just-cause eviction include former Santa Rosa police chief and current Santa Rosa City councilman Tom Schwedhelm, who says the new rules will make it harder for landlords to evict criminals.

Tibbetts is supporting Measure C despite what he calls his "internal struggle" over the bill, and his acknowledgement that the measure could create unintended consequences, which he recently laid out in an op-ed in the Press Democrat co-written with Santa Rosa school board member Jenni Klose. The Santa Rosa City Council is split, with John Sawyer, Schwedhelm and Ernesto Olivares in opposition, and Julie Combs, Mayor Chris Coursey and Tibbetts supporting the ordinance.

Tibbetts' concerns track generally with a 2016 report from the California Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) that opponents to the measure have been sending around. The mailer says that the LAO report, "Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing," found that policies like Measure C "are not sound solutions to our housing crisis." The LAO report said that "facilitating more private housing development in the state's coastal urban communities would help make housing more affordable for low-income Californians" which, let's face it, is music to the ears of developers who often characterize the problem of affordable housing as lack of supply.

"Existing affordable-housing programs assist only a small proportion of low-income Californians," the LAO report continued. "Most low-income Californians receive little or no assistance. Expanding affordable housing programs to help these households likely would be extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive."

Measure C doesn't expand affordable housing, but it does compel landlords to provide relocation assistance for tenants when they are repairing a unit, which in his op-ed Tibbetts acknowledged created a "financial barrier to properly maintaining, rehabilitating and remodeling depressed properties."

Tibbetts also called for the creation of a risk-mitigation pool for landlords who might be wary of accepting tenants with bad credit or with Section 8 vouchers. He notes that Measure C has a sunset clause based on "time rather than a vacancy rate," where the city council could adjust the ordinance if the vacancy rate was 5 percent over the course of a year.

The city is looking to construct more affordable housing in the future, Tibbetts says, but that's not for a couple of years, and in the meanwhile, Measure C "can be a bridge to get us there."

And the city is cranking up efforts to confront its homelessness problem as residents highlight their growing concern. On May 24, Santa Rosa launched the first of several community forums to tackle the problem. Santa Rosa voters routinely cite homelessness and affordable housing, Tibbetts says, as the top two issues of importance to them.

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