In a challenge to Mountain View's citizen-backed initiative to curb rising rents, city officials could draft a second ballot measure that would address the same issues. This week, Mayor Pat Showalter announced she was calling a special City Council meeting to consider putting forward an alternative measure to restrict apartment rent hikes this November.
The special meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on July 14 at the Second Stage theater at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts at 500 Castro St.
While Showalter has been one of the council's few supporters of restricting rent increases, she said was nevertheless concerned about the inflexibility of the ballot measure being brought forward by the Mountain View Tenants Coalition. That measure would basically limit annual rent increases to the increases in the Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area.
Showalter indicated she had no problem with the spirit of the Tenants Coalition measure; in fact, she was among the 7,300 people who signed a petition to put it on the ballot. But she explained that she had concerns that the measure is calling for rental protections that would be enshrined as an amendment to Mountain View's city charter. To her understanding, that would make its provisions unchangeable except by another voter measure.
"If we were to find out there was some unintended consequence of this measure that pretty much everyone agreed wasn't a good thing, then they only way to fix it would be to have another vote," she said. "That's cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming."
Showalter is proposing some kind of alternative measure that would be classified as a city ordinance, meaning the City Council could amend and tweak the policy to suit future needs. As to the specific provisions, she said she was amenable to having language that would mirror the Tenants Coalition's measure. However, she was doubtful that proposal would find enough support among the rest of the seven-member council, of which five members had voted against past rent-control proposals.
One possible idea that could win support, Showalter said, would be to dust off the city staff's unapproved plan for a binding-arbitration program and use that as a template for a city-sponsored ballot measure.
"My real desire here is to provide a workable rent-protection program," Showalter said.
But tenants advocates don't feel very reassured by the mayor's sentiment, especially after weeks of pounding the pavement to collect signatures for their measure. Intentional or not, a second ballot measure would rival their initiative and possibly sap support from voters, said Tenants Coalition spokesman Evan Ortiz.
"There's some anxiety that having different measures would possibly be confusing and may inadvertently erode support by splitting the vote," he said. "We don't think a second ballot measure is the way to go."
The mayor's announcement came as a surprise to the Tenants Coalition, according to members. She first mentioned her idea back in May in a meeting with the group, but they say she never brought it up again and they assumed it was dead in the water. Only in recent days did they learn from city officials that Showalter was looking to schedule a special City Council meeting during the traditional summer recess. The mayor agreed to a hasty meeting on Monday with the Tenants Coalition, and she explained her position. She tried to make the case that voters could approve both initiatives.
The situation could become a "huge mess" if two near-identical measures wind up on the ballot, said Tenants Coalition spokesman Daniel DeBolt. DeBolt, who is a former Voice reporter, joined the group about a year after leaving the newspaper's employment. At the council meeting next week, the Tenants Coalition would likely speak in opposition to the mayor's proposal, he said.
"I don't see how this could be anything but an attempt to undermine what we're doing," DeBolt said. "This is very concerning and very unnecessary."
By all accounts, the exact legal and electoral ramifications of having two similar measures on the ballot are still unknown. Attorneys with the city and the tenants' group are looking into the matter. The city should have those questions answered in time for next week's meeting, Showalter said.
Tenants Coalition members say they decided to draft their measure as a city charter amendment as a deliberate move to prevent what happened in the city of Richmond. Last year, elected leaders in the East Bay city approved an ordinance for rent control by a thin majority, but they later rescinded that ordinance after landlords launched an organized opposition effort.
The mayor's desire for a special meeting also presented a challenge for city officials, many of whom are on vacation during the summer recess. Showalter said Councilman John Inks will likely be absent for the meeting although he might teleconference in. The Council Chambers won't be available because the city is renovating the room.
An agenda for the special City Council meeting will be posted online at mountainview.gov.
Email Mark Noack at firstname.lastname@example.org