A new online video that paints Mountain View's rent control program as a huge mistake is triggering a swift backlash against City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga.
The councilwoman appeared for less than 30 seconds in a political ad produced by the Measure V Too Costly organization, but critics say her brief comments smack of falsehoods. In the video, Abe-Koga echoed the opposition group's chief complaint that rent control is squandering money for Mountain View.
"Our strict rent control policy is costing us two-and-a-half million a year to implement," she was filmed saying. "Those funds could be better used to help folks in need right away."
It is accurate that the city's rent control program established a first-year budget of $2.5 million, of which about $1 million came from loans from the city. The program has now fully paid back those loans, according to its staff. Going forward, the rent control program will draw its funding by charging landlords a per-unit fee, which is set at $155 for this year.
That initial budget was intentionally inflated to cover start-up costs and to ensure the program didn't get overwhelmed if it received hundreds of petitions for rent adjustments. But that workload never materialized, and city staffers say they are now expecting a surplus and significantly smaller budgets and fees in future years.
At the Tuesday, March 27, City Council meeting, a line of speakers blasted Abe-Koga for participating in the video. Critics also pointed out Abe-Koga identified herself in the video as a councilwoman, but she never mentioned that she wasn't speaking on behalf of the City Council.
"It was affirmed that the city has been repaid, so Measure V is not costing the city of Mountain View anything," said Joan MacDonald, a member of the Mountain View Tenants Coalition. "We ask the Councilwoman Abe-Koga to withdraw this video and not keep misleading the residents of Mountain View."
In response, Abe-Koga explained that she hadn't known the money had been repaid when she was filmed for the rent control opposition video. But she said she stood by the rest of her comments.
"It's a costly measure regardless of who pays the bill," she said. "I have my personal beliefs and opinions, same as anyone else."
In an interview with the Voice Abe-Koga went on the offensive, saying tenant advocates also should face scrutiny over the accuracy of their claims. The current controversy over extending rent control protection to mobile homes, she said, stemmed from advocates making exaggerated promises to win support.
"If we get paid back and the budget does go down, then I'm willing to change my opinion," she said. "But at this date and time, I'm not seeing that."