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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Alameda City Council places competing rent measure on fall ballot

Alameda renters from the Bay View Apartments
at a press conference Monday afternoon at City 
Hall to oppose the City Council's rent initiative.
ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL |
Alameda residents will have two rent-related ballot initiatives to ponder this November after the city council voted Monday night to place a competing measure on the fall ballot.

The city’s measure, based on a rent ordinance it passed in March, joins the renters-backed initiative advocating for rent control that is already on the ballot.

With some surprises, the council approved placing the measure on the ballot, 3-2. Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft voted no.

Oddie, a strong supporter for the ordinance upon approval earlier this year, lauded the city’s legislation for beginning to stem exorbitant rent increases. He was also critical of both the Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC), the group backing the rent control initiative, and the California Apartment Association (CAA), which is moving to block rent reforms, for being uncompromising.

The proposed ballot question for the Alameda City
Council-backed rent initiative.
“Is this really our fight? We did what we’re supposed to do. Maybe this is a fight between ARC and CAA,” said Oddie. Instead, he urged the city to focus on the Utility Modernization Act (UMA), a $5 million a year reaffirmation of Alameda’s existing utility users tax, also on the ballot this November.

Ashcraft, up for re-election this fall, maintained the rent ordinance represents a genuine move by the council to alleviate the pressure many Alamedans are feeling due to skyrocketing rents and some high-profile evictions. But, during her council comments she appeared to waver on whether to place the ordinance on the ballot or not.

Yet, despite Oddie and Ashcraft voting against placing the measure up against the renters’ initiative, both were approved to write the ballot statement in its favor. To avoid triggering a quorum of council members, just two of the five are allowed to be assigned the task.

Part of the reason behind the unusual assignment is Mayor Trish Spencer's role in writing other ballot statements this election cycle, both in favor and in opposition, along with a controversial rebuttal over the UMA that included an attack on the city manager.

Ashcraft slammed the opposition statement to the renters’ initiative penned by Spencer and urged for another to author the city's own ballot statement . “The reasoning was substandard. The writing was poor," Ashcraft said of Spencer's written opposition to the renters' initiative.

Other Alameda council members found themselves on the opposite side of the city’s rent initiative, including Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese. After representing the lone opposition to the rent stabilization ordinance on the council last March, Matarrese was the swing vote Monday night that will place it before voters in November.

Earlier, members of the Alameda Renters Coalition held a press conference in front of City Hall to highlight recent evictions at the Bay View Apartments on Central Avenue. The apartments became the epicenter of renters angst last year when a San Jose-based equity firm attempted to evict around 30 families just after a moratorium on rents and eviction was passed by the city council.

Catherine Pauling, a spokesperson for ARC, said the move to evict 25 percent of the renters at the Bay View Apartments shows the city's ordinance is not working. An inter-faith group of Catholic nuns and a rabbi, along with Alameda renters, called for the council to view the rental crisis in terms of people, not profits.

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