A landlord group that's long been opposed to rent control is actively campaigning in favor of a Mountain View measure to loosen rent control restrictions, collecting two major donations totaling nearly $77,000 for the "Yes on Measure D" campaign.
Measure D, sponsored by the Mountain View City Council, would make significant changes to the city's rent control law, known as the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA). It would set maximum annual rent increases to 4% on rent-controlled apartments and make it easier for landlords to pass the costs of capital upgrades on to tenants for rent increases of up to 10%.
Despite retaining caps on rent increases and other key provisions of CSFRA typically opposed by landlords, the California Apartment Association (CAA) is now campaigning to get Measure D across the finish line in the March 3 election. The organization sent mailers to Mountain View residents last week encouraging voters to support the ballot measure, calling it a "responsible approach that renters, property owners and taxpayers support."
The mailer frames Measure D as way to fix or improve upon the rent control law, originally passed by voters in 2016. It suggests that the streamlined process for capital upgrades enables property owners to "properly address" things like seismic vulnerabilities in older apartment buildings.
The mailer claims that Measure D "lowers" the annual rent increases under CSFRA to 4%. In fact, the current law ties annual rent increases to the rate of inflation, not to exceed 5% and, since its inception, has not gone higher than 3.6%.
It also points out that the council's measure does not remove just-cause eviction protections, even though such protections are now largely enshrined in state law under AB 1482, and does not tamper with the balance between tenants and property owners who serve on the Rental Housing Committee charged with administering CSFRA. However, the measure would open membership to nonresident property owners.
Campaigning by the landlord lobbying group was dormant through the end of 2019, with recent campaign finance documents showing no fundraising activities and just $3,500 spent on legal services. Though reports for activity through the first half of January have yet to be filed, campaigning appears to have jump-started this week with two major donations: $26,950 from Mountain View-based real estate company Acco Management and $49,500 from Richard Tod Spieker, who owns and operates thousands of multifamily units, mostly in Silicon Valley. Both donations went to a campaign committee called "Mountain View Residents for Renter, Homeowner, & Taxpayer Protections, Yes on D, Sponsored by the California Apartment Association."
The active role in campaigning for Measure D comes from a desire to end the "divisive rent control fights" that Mountain View residents have endured since 2016, said Joshua Howard of the California Apartment Association, which filed a now-withdrawn lawsuit in 2017 seeking to overturn CSFRA. He added that the group appreciates the leadership of Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga for seeking to bring the community together on the contentious issue.
"While Measure D is far from perfect, it does try to strike a balance between the current law and the measure that CAA helped qualify for the November ballot," Howard said.
In 2018, the CAA sought its own revisions to Mountain View's rent control law by collecting signatures for an initiative currently slated to appear on the November 2020 ballot. The measure would make significant concessions in favor of landlords and contains a poison pill provision that would effectively end rent control in Mountain View. Rent control increases would be tied to the vacancy rate of rental units and become unenforceable when it hits 3% or higher. Even in the city's booming housing market, the vacancy rate hasn't dipped below 3% in over 13 years.
Last month, the CAA announced that it would withdraw its support for the November ballot initiative if Measure D passes, shortly before it began actively campaigning for the measure.
A relatively lean campaign opposing Measure D also picked up steam last month, with the latest round of filings showing the Mountain View Housing Justice Campaign raised nearly $4,500 in donations from the start of the year through Jan. 18.
The campaign received contributions ranging from $99 to $1,000 from 14 people, a dozen of whom are Mountain View residents. Top donations came from former school board member Steven Nelson ($1,000), former councilman Lenny Siegel ($680) and Edith Keating ($600), a Palo Alto resident who has been active for years in Mountain View's rent control campaigns.
The campaign spent nearly $3,000 over the same period on flyers, cards, yard signs and door hangers. Once such door hanger called Measure D "deceptive, unfair and unnecessary," slamming the argument that the measure would reduce rents or is needed for earthquake safety.