Advocacy Groups Denounce Proposition 98

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Fred Ortega
Pasadena Star-News

PASADENA - A coalition of advocacy groups is denouncing a ballot measure it claims would eradicate rent control and throw thousands of low-income Californians onto the streets.

Members of the League of Women Voters, the Western Center of Law & Poverty and housing attorneys joined fixed-income renters at the AARP's Pasadena headquarters Wednesday to issue a "fraud alert" against advertisements promoting Proposition 98.

The proposition, which is being championed by a coalition led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is billed as an effort to keep government from handing property to private developers using eminent domain.

But opponents say that hidden within the language of the June 3 ballot initiative are provisions that would eliminate rent control in apartments and mobile home parks across the state, including for the more than 627,000 rent-controlled households in Los Angeles alone.

"The eminent domain argument is a Trojan horse," said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the AARP-led coalition. "About 80 percent of the funding for the `Yes on 98 Campaign' comes from landlords, and all they care about is eliminating rent control."

Much of the support the proposition has received has indeed come from landlord groups, said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

But he accused opponents in government of exaggerating the proposition's effects on rent control in order to secure their own ability to seize private property for redevelopment purposes.

"Parts of our measure would phase out rent control in a way that if a person under rent control leaves a unit, the controls on that unit would be eliminated," said Vosburgh, noting that the League of California Cities has gone on record opposing the measure. "So I would imagine in 40 or 50 years it might be eliminated, but it would not impact anyone currently on rent control."

Vosburgh added that the proposition would ban cities from using eminent domain to take land from a private owner and turning it over to another private entity.

"They would still be able to take it for public schools, roads and other legitimate purposes," he said. "But you can't take it because, say, a strip mall might bring more revenue than Ms. Jones' business, or Mr. Sanchez's house."

But rent control is not the only thing that would be jeopardized by Proposition 98, AARP Executive Council member Marvin Schachter said.

"We have inclusionary zoning here in Pasadena, where new developers are required to set aside a portion of construction for affordable housing, and that would be invalidated by this proposition," said Schachter, adding that the Pasadena City Council has gone on the record against Proposition 98.

An analysis of the proposition shows its provisions would end rent control for 1million Californians, said Greg Spiegel, a housing attorney for the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

"This would have a devastating effect on renters and undo centuries of landlord-tenant law," said Spiegel, adding that Proposition 98 would also do away with other renter-protection measures, such as notices for no-fault evictions and caps on what landlords can charge for credit checks.

"This is a doomsday measure backed by wealthy landlords and mobile-home park owners," added Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, noting that condo-conversion protection and tenant relocation programs would also be affected by the proposition. "It is nothing but lies, lies, lies motivated by greed, greed, greed."

Schachter said his group wanted to alert people to the proposition early, especially those seniors who cast their votes via absentee ballot.

"There will probably be tremendously low turnout this election and that is part of the (Proposition 98) proponents' strategy," said Schachter, whose group is urging voters to support Proposition 99, a rival measure they say includes safeguards for renters.

"They will likely send out slate mailers supporting unchallenged candidates and incumbents like Adam Schiff and Carol Liu, and also urging a yes on 98 vote. It is morally indefensible, but it happens all the time."

Vosburgh countered by accusing the anti-Proposition 98 folks of using underhanded tactics.

"They are looking to inflame tenants by saying they are going to lose rent control, but a lot of the lying that goes on in politics is what you leave out," said Vosburgh. "They are not personally going to lose rent control. But at the same time, there are currently no significant restrictions on eminent domain in the state, and all you have to do is look at Baldwin Park, where they are pushing people out of their homes for redevelopment."

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