By Steven Tavares.
Over the past month, members of the Alameda Renters Coalition had been toying with a counterintuitive proposal. Instead of fighting a costly election campaign sometime next year to oppose a referendum offered by Alameda landlords to roll back just cause protections for renters that was approved in May, maybe it was time to cut their losses and live to fight another day.
On the night the Alameda City Council was scheduled to decide whether to set an election date for the proposed ballot measure to repeal just cause, a spokesman for the group urged them to instead repeal the ordinance.
The council obliged, voting 4-1, to rescind the action approved just four months ago, an amendment to the more wide-ranging rent stabilization ordinance approved by the council in March 2016. Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft was the lone opposition.
Although the renters’ repeal strategy had been bandied about among the group for weeks, the Alameda Renters Coalition leadership was only given approval to proceed within the last 24 hours, said Eric Strimling, a spokesman for the coalition.
Nevertheless, the notion of asking the city council to rescind a right the coalition had fought hard to win was difficult for Strimling, whose statement during public comment late Tuesday night hasten the vote for repeal. “For me to go up there and say, ‘Repeal just cause,’ it killed me,” he said.
“The campaign to put the referendum on the ballot was so full of lies and deceptions that to agree to put it on the ballot is to ratify those lies and deceptions,” said Eric Strimling. “It also tells us what kind of campaign we would be against.”
The petition drive that started in early June, and backed by Alameda landlords, was rife with controversy. Opponents of the petition charged signature-gatherers with offering prospective voters misleading information about the proposed referendum. Numerous videos on social media showed some signature-gatherers, many who live far from Alameda, harassing people on street corners and shopping center parking lots.
The referendum was eventually certified by the city clerk’s office in July and a second petition, a charter amendment that would also strike just cause from the books in Alameda, appears set for likely certification.
The prospect of facing one ballot measures next year instead of two, according to some members of the Alameda Renters Coalition, is far more appealing, coming less than a year after landlords employed two similar ballot measures against rent control in order to confuse voters. In addition, repeal, they believe, is the quickest way to reinstate just cause protections later.
The issue of just cause in Alameda, however, is not likely to go by the wayside, despite the repeal. Mayor Trish Spencer, in an interview, said she hopes to “continue conversations” with the renters group and local landlords over the issue. Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella also voiced a similar sentiment.
The renters group hopes the council can offer legislation in coming months that gives a more direct path to resolving the city’s rent crisis. “If we can work the city council and they could put something together,” said Strimling, “Then we can have a real rent control-no rent control vote and those we do better at.”
Tuesday’s move has precedent and is based on a similar strategy used by renters advocates last year in Richmond. In this case, renters in Richmond urged for the repeal of a rent control ordinance previously approved by that City Council, instead of facing a landlords-backed ballot measure to reverse the action. The Richmond renters’ tactic was ultimately a success when voters backed rent control at the ballot box last November.
The cost of placing the just cause referendum on the ballot would have been exorbitant, especially if placed on the June Primary ballot next year. Since the the primary ballot is likely to be small, the costs were estimated to be between $400,00-$700,000, said City Clerk Lara Weisinger. The price tag for the more jam-packed November 2018 General Election ballot, however, would have been roughly $25,000.