Tenant protections may head to voters in Peninsula cities

As Peninsula cities increasingly fail to enact new tenant protection laws, those who continue to push for such reforms are hoping to take the issue to voters this fall.

Housing activists recently filed paperwork to place rent stabilization measures on the Nov. 8 election ballots in Burlingame, San Mateo, and Mountain View, saying they’re taking their case to the voters because city councils in San Mateo County have not authorized new tenant protections.

As recently as Monday, the San Mateo City Council debated, but did not approve, an urgency ordinance that would have placed a temporary, 90-day moratorium on evictions or rent increases.

Among such activists looking to increase tenant protections is Burlingame resident Cynthia Cornell, who said she founded the Renter’s Rights Now organization after noticing an apparent trend of local seniors becoming ill and dying shortly after being evicted.

The most well-known case is that of 97-year old Marie Hatch, who had a panic attack and was hospitalized shortly after being told she would be evicted from the Burlingame cottage she had lived in for 66 years. Hatch died March 3.

The measure Cornell hopes to place on the ballot would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without cause. It would also impose a type of rent control that proponents typically describe as rent stabilization, because it is not as strict as rent control in cities like San Francisco.

“If there had been a just-cause eviction ordinance in Burlingame, Marie Hatch wouldn’t have been served with that eviction notice,” Cornell said.

Cornell is asking voters to approve the legislation because she says the Burlingame City Council has not responded to her group’s requests to consider tenant protections.

Burlingame Mayor Ann Keighran noted the council had, in fact, considered rent control — and various other tenant protections — during two special study sessions last year.

The Mountain View Tenants Coalition filed paperwork for a similar ballot initiative last week, and on Tuesday, Faith in Action Bay Area announced it would attempt to place a similar ordinance on San Mateo’s November ballot.

Monday’s City Council meeting in San Mateo was the latest iteration of a now-familiar dynamic repeated in every Peninsula city where rent control has been considered, with hundreds of property owners organized by realtor and landlord lobbying groups voicing their opposition.

Mayor Joe Goethals said he proposed the 90-day moratorium on rent increases and evictions because he was worried some landlords, fearing possible new tenant protections, might preemptively issue evictions or rent hikes while they can.

But Goethals ultimately voted against his own ordinance, as did Councilwomen Maureen Freschet and Diane Papan. Deputy Mayor David Lim and Councilman Rick Bonilla voted in favor of the measure.

Explaining his reversal, Goethals said, “I wanted everything to be on the table so we could talk about every option, but I don’t think rent control is the right direction.”

The City Council then discussed enacting an alternate urgency ordinance, which would have required landlords to offer relocation assistance packages equal to six months of market-rate rent to tenants evicted without cause.

The city attorney wrote the new ordinance at the meeting, but it failed to pass, with Freschet and Lim voting against it and the rest supporting the measure. Because it was an urgency ordinance, it would have needed four votes to pass.

The council agreed to reconvene at a special meeting Monday, where they might again consider the ordinance requiring relocation assistance from landlords.

Brendan P. Bartholomew
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Brendan P. Bartholomew

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