Alameda Renters Submit Nearly 8,000 Signatures for Rent Control Measure
Article source: Steven Tavares, Alameda Magazine – May 25, 2016
A ballot measure proposing rent control in Alameda took a big step closer to reality Tuesday when proponents submitted nearly 8,000 signatures to the city clerk’s office. If validated by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters in coming weeks, the rent control measure will appear before Alameda voters in November. Roughly 6,400 valid signatures are required to qualify for the ballot.
Members of the Alameda Renters Coalition, which sponsored the ballot measure, were in a celebratory mood as they gathered at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to submit the results of more than two months of signature-gathering work by 100-plus volunteers. The group initially tabbed the number of signatures at 8,057. However, the city clerk’s office later pegged the preliminary number at 7,882.
The figure is slightly below the 25 percent additional signatures recommended to ensure a minimum number is validated. Members of the renters’ group said they are comfortable with the number since they had already eliminated a number of clearly invalid signatures—for instance, entries listing non-Alameda addresses.
Over the last few months, the sight of volunteers from the group toting clipboards has been constant on downtown street corners and in front of Alameda grocery stores. April Squires, an ARC volunteer, said she didn’t have to do much to convince people to sign the petition. “After a few weeks, people started looking for us. All we had to do was be visible with signs,” said Squires. “Once in awhile, someone would come by, maybe a landlord who didn’t like what we’re doing, and be a little abusive.”
She added, “I wish we had another month because it’s been so easy.”
ARC members, though, realize their work has only just begun. Two landlord-friendly ballot measures could potentially join theirs on the November ballot. A landlord-backed petition to change the City Charter to ban rent control in Alameda is still in the signature-gathering phase. In addition, a measure backed by Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog seeks to roll back some tenant relocation fees paid by small-time landlords. The relocation payments were included in the rent stabilization ordinance that the City Council approved in March.
The rent control measure backed by tenants would cap annual rent increases in Alameda to no greater than 65 percent of the rate of inflation. It would also prohibit no-cause evictions, but provide landlords with recourse to evict bad tenants.
“I think putting things on the ballot is one of the most direct forms of democracy and people can decide,” said Catherine Pauling, chair of the ARC’s steering committee. “We need stability, and this is how we can provide it.”
Eric Strimling, communications director for the group, said the next step is to vet potential city council candidates for possible endorsement while focusing on a get-out-the-vote effort for the fall. Early indications are the renters group favors council candidate Malia Vella, who has in the past spoken in favor of greater rent protections. No official endorsement has been made, though. Strimling said the group is also debating whether to support Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who is one of two incumbents, along with Daysog, up for re-election this year.
“There is a real question among the group whether we are going to support” Ashcraft, Strimling said. “She has been somewhat tepid, sometimes very supportive.” However, Strimling credits Ashcraft for helping pass the rent stabilization ordinance in March. It’s an ordinance that ARC believes contains nowhere near enough tenant protections, but is “light years from where we were a year ago,” said Strimling.
As with any campaign, raising the profile of your cause is paramount. In addition to a focus on signing up new voters, ARC will need to drive them to the polls on Election Day. “Over half of the people in Alameda are renters. Do they vote?” said Strimling. “We know every last landlord is going to come out and vote because it’s their pocket book on the line. Can we convince tenants that it’s their pocket book also on the line, and they need to get out and vote?”