Delaine Eastin is the only major candidate for California governor to unequivocally support a potential November ballot measure that would allow stronger local rent control laws across the state.
Eastin, a Democrat and former state schools chief, said she supports the outright repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prevents rent control ordinances from applying to housing built after 1995, as well as single-family homes, duplexes and condos.
"It hasn't worked and it's time to repeal it," Eastin said at a candidate forum Thursday hosted by the advocacy nonprofit Housing California. Proponents of repeal, financed in part by Los Angeles activist Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have gathered more than 250,000 of the 365,880 signatures they need to qualify by next month.
Eastin is trailing in the polls behind other Democrats — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang. Rent control advocates voiced strong support for her after she backed Costa-Hawkins repeal at the California Democratic Party convention last month. She won 20 percent of delegate votes, behind Newsom and Chiang, while Villaraigosa got 9 percent.
Newsom and Villaraigosa said they're open to fewer restrictions on the use of rent control in cities and counties.
Newsom said outright repeal of the Costa-Hawkins law could deter new construction.
"Getting rid of these protections overall, I think, may have unintended consequences on housing production that could be profoundly problematic," Newsom said. "I would hope, if there's an opportunity to find consensus, that we would get there."
He declined to say whether he'd vote for it personally, should the measure qualify for the ballot.
Villaraigosa, who noted he voted against Costa-Hawkins when he was an assemblyman, said he'd put repeal "on the table" and use it "as a bargaining chip" to convince developers to set aside a portion of new market-rate development as affordable for low- and moderate-income tenants, and to encourage more dense city-centered growth.
"If the people coming to the table are unwilling to do what we need to do to increase the supply, then you're darn right, we'll have to repeal it ... amend it — do whatever we need to do to address the fact that rent prices are out of control," Villaraigosa said.
Chiang said he's open to "looking at revisions," but does not support outright repeal because he thinks it could deter investment in new construction.
"We don't want to dissuade individuals from building additional housing," Chiang said. "We want to make sure that we take into account private individuals' capital."
Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen said he opposes all rent control, and if given the chance, would get rid of laws across California that shield renters from large increases.
"Rent control should be nowhere in the entire state of California ... Every area that has rent control, you see crime, you see slumlords, you see all sorts of terrible things," Allen said, to scattered boos and loud hisses from an audience of housing advocates, building industry representatives, local city and county officials and others.
Allen was also hissed at when he said the primary solution to the state's homelessness problem is warehousing the homeless in state-run institutions.
"What we need to fix the homeless problem in California is very simple. It's what we had before ... state-run mental institutions," Allen said.
California and the United States as a whole moved away from institutionalization beginning in the 1960s and '70s after the practice was assessed as a failure that exacerbated the mental health crises.
All candidates called for a rapid increase in new construction to help alleviate the state's affordability crisis and housing shortage. Republican John Cox and Allen said they'd cut taxes and do away with government land-use regulations, while Newsom, Eastin, Chiang and Villaraigosa called for new investment.
"You've got to be audacious," Newsom said, mentioning his goal for California of developing 3.5 million new homes by 2025. "If you guys are interested in playing the margins, I promise you, every single one of you should get on your social media and encourage all your friends and family not to support my candidacy for governor. You have to be as bold as this problem is big."
Villaraigosa shares the goal of building 3.5 million new homes by 2025.
Chiang called it "unrealistic."
"In seven years? Yeah," Chiang said. He proposed a $9 billion housing bond and $600 million per year in general fund money to speed development.
Cox said he opposes repeal of the rent control control restrictions.
"I don't believe rent control works," Cox said.