Protestors call Proposition 98 threat to rent control

Sunday, March 16, 2008
Kamika Dunlap, STAFF WRITER
Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND - Seniors, tenants and community activists protested Saturday a state ballot initiative they say is a scheme to eliminate rent control and renter protections in California.

"Don't buy the landlords' lie!" they shouted in unison as the group rallied outside the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County convention held at the Greek Orthodox Church at 4700 Lincoln Ave.

The RHA represents apartment building owners who, along with the mobile home park owners, support Proposition 98, or the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act.

The initiative is expected to go before voters June 3. But with no presidential primary on the statewide ballot, voter turnout is expected to be low.

Supporters say the ballot initiative is about eminent domain reform to prevent state and local governments from condemning or damaging private property for private uses.

Organized by Just Cause Oakland and a coalition of others, including Tenants Together and the California Alliance for Retired Americans, they wanted the rally to expose Proposition 98. Homeowners, small business owners and environmentalists are also a part of the broad coalition.

They say backers of Proposition 98 have a hidden agenda to phase out rent control and jeopardize housing for thousands of seniors on fixed incomes, single mothers and working families. Proposition 98 would also impact local governments' ability to regulate land-use laws, such as inclusionary zoning policies and other environmental protections.

"It's the worse kind of ballot initiative," said Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together and co-chairman of the Coalition to Protect California Renters. "It says it's about one thing and it's about something else."

He warned people "not to be tricked" into abolishing rent control.

Coalition members instead support Proposition 99, or the Homeowners Protection Act, which prohibits the government from using eminent domain to take a home to transfer to a private developer.

Lucile Batty, 45, is an Oakland resident and a volunteer for Just Cause. She attended the rally dressed as the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and carried a large magnifying glass.

"It's important to look at the fine print," she said.

Wayne Rowland, president of the RHA, said Proposition 98 is about fairness and to landlords and tenants by phasing out rent control.

"One private individual should not be forced to subsidize another individual," he said. "People are trying to rent cheap apartments."

More than 100 apartment building and mobile park home owners spent nearly $2 million to put the initiative on the June ballot to phase out rent control laws in California.

California is one of only five areas in the country - the others are the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York - that has rent control.

Opponents of Proposition 98 say it would gut basic tenant protections, including fair return of rental deposits and 60-day notice before forcing tenants out of their housing.

About 60 percent of Oakland residents are tenants, according to Just Cause officials.

Lauren Wheeler, 31, moved from San Francisco to Oakland in search of better housing and tenant protections.

"Over the years, I haven't had great housing situations," she said. "Some landlords seem more concerned about breaking up communities just to turn a profit and rent to the highest bidder."

Jeanne Trombly is a member of the RHA and has been a landlord in Oakland for a year and half. She said she favors rent control, but not for property-owning tenants who make above median income and want to pay rent below market value.

"The whole thing feels unfair," she said.

FAIR USE NOTICE.This document may contain copyrighted material the use of which may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Tenants Together is making this article available on our website in an effort to advance the understanding of tenant rights issues in California. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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