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San Mateo County fails in efforts to pass rent control, despite other wins

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Election night brought mixed results for proponents and critics of rent control, with voters in two Peninsula cities rejecting enhanced tenant protections and several other Bay Area cities adopting or strengthening such measures.

Rent-control measures, Proposition R in Burlingame and Proposition Q in San Mateo, both failed at the ballot, garnering 32.6 percent and 39.1 percent of the votes, respectively.

But Mountain View’s new rent-control law, Measure V, won with the support of 53 percent of voters. And on Tuesday, the city council approved an urgency ordinance placing a moratorium on no-fault evictions to help prevent landlords from kicking tenants out before Measure V takes effect in mid-December.

And while Burlingame and San Mateo were big losses for housing activists, they are celebrating several victories throughout the region.

Daniel Saver, a housing lawyer with Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, noted Richmond voters not only approved rent control, but also gave the renter-friendly Richmond Progressive Alliance a super majority on the town’s city council. In addition to its mayor, Richmond has six council seats, five of which are now controlled by the RPA.

And in Santa Rosa, where four out of seven council seats were up for re-election, a pro-rent control majority was maintained.

Saver said Santa Rosa was “an important battleground,” because Realtor and landlord groups are currently trying to overturn the city’s council-approved rent-control ordinance with a referendum, and “dumped a ton of money” into the Nov. 8 election.

Alameda represents a modest victory for tenant advocates, with voters approving a council-backed alternative to a more stringent activist-sponsored rent-control measure.

Berkeley, Oakland, and East Palo Alto voters all approved measures strengthening existing rent control laws. And Berkeley and East Palo Alto voters also approved progressive tax increases on gross receipts for large landlords.

In Pacifica, council members who have expressed support for rent control now enjoy a 3-2 majority.

“When you look at the election and ask yourself how renters did, the answer is renters did incredibly well,” Saver said.

Not everybody is celebrating, however. Silicon Valley Association of Realtors (SILVAR) spokesperson Jessica Epstein said it would be premature to comment on what comes next for her group, which worked hard to defeat Mountain View’s rent-control measure.

Epstein claimed the threat of an impending rent-control law made it more difficult to sell properties in Mountain View prior to the election, and she criticized the new law’s wording and length.

“The biggest burden right now is on the city of Mountain View,” Epstein said. “This is a very long piece of legislation with a lot of ambiguities and flaws.”

Asked how the new law might affect SILVAR’s members and the property owners they serve, Epstein said it was too early to tell.

“This is new, and very uncharted territory for the city, going forward,” Epstein said.

The Tri-County arm of the California Apartment Association, which also opposed the new law, did not respond to a request for comment.

Although Burlingame’s measure was not approved, Burlingame Advocates for Renter Protections founder Cynthia Cornell said garnering over one third of the votes was impressive, given the forces arrayed against her movement.

Those included a city council that unanimously vowed to defeat the measure, and authored the ballot argument against it, along with Realtor lobbying groups that vastly out-spent Cornell’s grassroots effort.

Cornell said the town’s rapidly changing renter demographics could make future efforts to pass rent control even harder, because foreign tech workers who can’t vote are replacing renters who have the right to do so.

“A year ago, there were tons of renters who’d been here a long time and were being kicked out,” Cornell said. “Now 35 percent of our renters are here on H1B visas.”

John Kevranian, president of the Broadway Burlingame Business Improvement District, claimed the Burlingame and San Mateo measures might have passed if they had placed fewer burdens on landlords.

Kevranian said he could support some form of rent control, but worried the measures under consideration would have harmed mom-and-pop landlords like him.

“I’m in favor of it if there’s a compromise,” Kevranian said. “There has to be a solution that’s fair for both sides.”

Despite wins for tenant advocates in other areas, San Mateo County’s rising tide of rent hikes and no-cause evictions appears to be continuing unabated.

Social worker Andrea Guzman said she and her family and neighbors were stunned when they awakened the morning of Oct. 26 to find eviction notices taped to every door in their San Mateo apartment building.

The 60-day eviction notices, posted by the building’s new owner, said the tenants would have to leave on the day after Christmas.

“It’s pretty inhumane,” Guzman said. “They don’t even tell you this is going to happen — you just wake up to a letter on your door.”

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