Voting “No” to Save Rent Control in Mountain View, California

Written by La Voz de l@s Trabajadores/ Workers’ Voice – South Bay
While most people’s attention was focused on the Democratic primary election on March 3rd, residents of Mountain View, CA had a reason to celebrate as results came in: voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure D, which would have significantly weakened rent control, following a months long battle between grassroots community organizers and landlords. While counting has still not concluded, as of March 13 with 98% of votes counted nearly 70% opposed the Council’s proposed amendment.
Measure D was an attempt to undermine the rent control provisions which were established when voters approved Measure V in the 2016 election. The Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act placed all rental units constructed prior to February 1, 1995 under rent control and established a just cause eviction provision as a protection for tenants. The City Council proposed Measure D as an amendment to CSFRA, and its campaign was backed by nearly $200,000 from the California Apartment Association, the US’s largest landlord group.
Measure D’s well funded ad campaign claimed the measure would lower rents, prevent the Rental Housing Committee–an advisory board established by Measure V–from writing themselves paychecks, and that it would encourage landlords to provide necessary earthquake safety upgrades for rental units. Each of these claims were misleading. The measure would have raised the cap on the annual rent increase known as the Annual General Adjustment from its current range of 2-3% based on the cost of living (as established by Measure V) to a flat rate of 4%, and it would have allowed landlords to pass on the cost of capital improvements to tenants in the form of rent, raising  annual increases to as much as 10%. The claim that it would stop the advisory board from paying themselves was a red herring, an attempt to appeal to tax conscious voters.The advisory board never received any compensation to begin with, and the claim that it would encourage landlords to increase earthquake safety drastically misrepresented the current state of earthquake safety preparedness in Mountain View. 
Measure D is only the latest in a series of battles between Mountain View’s city council and tenants’ rights advocates, with the city council having previously pushed through legislation that would evict Mountain View residents living in RVs or other vehicles from the city. Despite being outspent 63 to 1 by the landlords, volunteers in the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition put together a fierce ground game, going door to door for weeks to inform people about the deceptive measure as well as sending out mailers, putting up signs and staging demonstrations. Comrades of La Voz also participated in this effort, canvassing several neighborhoods to help defeat Measure D. 
The housing justice organizers faced an uphill battle, despite Mountain View being a city of renters with 60% at the mercy of the landlords, immigrants make up a large portion of this population. A disenfranchised sector of the labor force, they are exploited and lack a voice in the  electoral process and especially in this case cannot affect the outcome of a ballot measure that directly impacts them. Federal immigration laws do not bestow some essential rights on these workers.
Google which is based in Mountain View and other technology companies bear a great deal of the responsibility for the exorbitant rents. A new Gold Rush has taken hold this time workers from across the country and around the world seek careers with Silicon Valley firms. Housing becomes scarce and combined with the latitude given to developers and speculators labor not associated with tech companies are at risk of displacement. 
 The market drives housing costs and illustrates what the market can bear but is clearly greater than what can be borne by the working class in the city. Immigrants are disenfranchised and many of the renters are low income relative to the city’s median wage. While the interests of the landlord prevail at City Hall.   Deprived of the ballot, immigrants are in need of allies working for our collective interest in the fight against displacement at the hands of landlords, developers and speculators. 
Still, there were plenty of signs pointing to the housing justice groups’ victory. Canvassers knocking on doors were greeted by renters opposed to the Measure and many who already voted by mail. Similarly, “Yes on D” ads posted on Facebook were overwhelmed by a flurry of anger and laughter effectively turning the campaign’s paid propaganda spots into evidence of the public’s opposition to the measure. 
While this has been an encouraging victory, the fight against the landlord’s offensive in Mountain View is far from over. Since the beginning of covid19 quarantine in Santa Clara County, Mountain View housing justice has been calling for a moratorium on evictions, as well as a guarantee of free internet services for tenants during the emergency. While there is some hope that simply petitioning the city council will accomplish this, the group currently lacks the relationships with unions necessary to call for a labor or rent strike which could guarantee the city council’s cooperation.
Even setting aside the crises of the current pandemic, housing justice groups will have to rally once again in November to defeat a “sneaky repeal” bill that would damage rent control even more than Measure D would have. The November Measure would in effect eliminate rent control in Mountain View by tying its implementation to the vacancy rate. It is also being sponsored by the CAA, who attempted to qualify a Measure for November 2018 but was unable to do so until this year. Last year the California State Legislature passed AB1482 which set an annual cap of 10% on rental units. Calculated as a maximum rate increase of 5% plus the CPI (cost of living) which for Santa Clara would equal more than 8% and possibly 10% with the addition of capital improvements, the legislation still allows for annual rate increases that would displace the working class who are not software engineer earning over $100,000. Mountain View’s Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) provides greater protection to tenants than the new state law. The CSFRA was passed by the people of Mountain View over opposition from landlords and their allies on the City Council. It is imperative that CSFRA be defended as it not only provides greater protection than AB1482 but also takes precedence.
November will also provide an opportunity to replace the local City Council members that have been pushing these pro-landlord bills to the ballot. Of the measure’s supporters, Councilmember Matichak has filed for reelection in November, and it’s expected that Mayor Abe-Koga will run as well, while a third councilmember will be termed out and ineligible to run. Lenny Siegel, who organized the community opposition against Measure D, will also be running for a Council seat. The CAA and their allies on the Council have revealed themselves as adversaries of Mountain View tenants. Tenants have come to realize this fact as they fight the repeated attempts to dilute or repeal rent control, the demolition of rent controlled units and the corresponding displacement that ensues. Mountain View Housing Justice protested outside City Hall proclaiming that housing is a human right. Inside the Council Chamber, speaking directly to its members the message was made clear. Tenants cannot rely on City Councils, they must fight their own battles because only the working class acting as a class for itself can battle and defeat the landlords.

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