Landlord Bill to Block Local Ballot Initiatives Dies in California Senate

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Legislation sponsored by the California Apartment Association to impede voters from passing local ballot measures on key land use issues is dead for this year, thanks in part to the growing power of California’s tenant rights movement. The bill was tabled yesterday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“We welcome the demise of this misguided landlord-sponsored bill,” noted Dean Preston, the Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights.  “Landlords already have too much political power thanks to the corrupting influence of money in politics – we don’t need Sacramento rewriting local election laws for their benefit.”

AB 943 sought to raise the threshold for certain local ballot measures relating to real estate development. Under AB 943, a ballot measure that “would reduce density or stop development or construction,” would require a supermajority to pass – 55% of the vote – instead of the usual majority. AB 943 lacked specifics on what ballot measures would be impacted and, if passed, the CAA could use it to undermine local ballot measures it doesn't like, including inclusionary housing laws, rent control laws, and others that CAA regularly argues somehow deter development.

AB 943 was sailing under the radar to what seemed like an easy victory.  It was passed out of the State Assembly with a vote of72-2. Realtors, landlords, and developers supported the measure. The only formal opposition on record was from the California League of Cities. The bill’s fate changed in the Senate because of the engagement of local activists who saw the bill as a major threat to local movements for affordable housing and tenant protections.  

Environmental attorney Jon Golinger – a champion in San Francisco of progressive voter initiatives on land use and development – issued a blistering letter opposing the bill. Tenants Together, California’s statewide tenant rights organization, publicly opposed the bill, characterizing AB 943 as a “stunning attempt by the real estate industry to silence the voices of California voters.” Of particular concern to Tenants Together was the likelihood that CAA would use AB 943 to prevent voters from passing new local tenant protections and inclusionary housing laws. Tenants Together notified its member organizations across the state, launched an online letter action campaign to statelegislators, and contacted media about the bill.

Meanwhile, former State Senator Mark Leno announced his opposition to AB 943 and took to the airwaves to debate the bill author on public radio. Local cities/counties -- San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Ventura County Board of Supervisors, City of Thousand Oaks – began passing resolutions against the bill. The Council of Community Housing Organizations joined the opposition with a letter to the Appropriations Committee Chair.  

With conflict growing over the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee held the bill for the year.  The committee put the bill in its “suspense file,” the death knell for legislation in Sacramento.

"Citizen ballot initiatives are an essential safety valve that empowers we the people to fix problems that politicians can't or won't," said Golinger.  "This is a great win but we need to stay vigilant to defend the citizen initiative power from being gutted by corporate lobbyists and real estate interests who will undoubtedly try this again."

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