June 2008 – Vote To Save Rent Control On June 3 – No On 98

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By Jack Neworth

In my many years living in an apartment, my experience with landlords it that 4 out of 5 of them are, for lack of a nicer term, greedy.  The percentage is actually higher, but I didn’t want to appear biased. 

I mention this because on June 3rd we’ll all be going to the polls and there’s a ballot initiative that’s pure greed. To be accurate, only about 25% of us will be going as primaries draw notoriously low turnouts.  And this year there’s so much at stake.  Prop #98, (the “greed is good” initiative) puts an end to rent control. As a renter, this isn’t exactly heartwarming. 

The initiative movement in California, that originated in 1912 with reformers, is now dominated by special interests.  How special? Approximately 87% of Prop 98’s $7 million campaign budget comes from apartment building and mobile park owners. So, for now I’m packing my seashell collection and taking a wistful look at my life near the beach.

When I first moved here in 1975 my neighborhood was hardly upscale. My apartment complex was built with low-income HUD financing. Rents started at $245. Today they start at $3,000 and go up to $5,800. (Giving new meaning to the term “low-income.”)  

Suddenly everybody wanted to live at the beach and rents skyrocketed. Each month waiting in the mailbox, there was another rent raise. Residents, especially low-income and the elderly, panicked. (At the time I was neither but I still panicked.) 

Shameless, most landlords felt that in a capitalist system supply and demand should always prevail. (Except for Chrysler or sub prime mortgage companies.) With talk about rent control laws, the landlords figured they ought to gouge while the gouging was still good.  As a result, the rent control laws passed. And ever since landlords have been trying, by hook or crook, to overturn it. (Prop #98 may be both.) 

When Prop 13 passed, the landlords promised renters would share in the savings. (And something about the tooth fairy, as I recall.) Then in 1999 statewide vacancy de-control went into effect. But the landlords weren’t satisfied. Greed is insatiable.  It is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins. (Along with: lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, pride and not getting my jokes — okay, the last one I made up.)

For a while things have been quiet. But, just when you thought your apartment was safe, like a bad horror movie, “The Landlords Are Back.”  On June 3, Prop. #98 will be playing at a polling place near you. I’m giving it two thumbs down.

I have to hand it to the landlord lobby. They’re like rust, they never sleep. Lest you think I’m being partisan, the biggest backer of #98 is the Apartment Owners Association USA. In their March newsletter they referred to rent control advocates as “terrorist bombers.” Ouch. Now whose style does that remind you of? Actually Bush/Cheney/Rove and the proponents of  #98 have a lot in common. The neo-cons used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq and AOA is using “eminent domain” to wipe out rent control.  

The proponents of #98 assure rent control residents they’ll be allowed to stay.  Why thank you, Milord.  But after seven years of WMD’s and  “we’ll be greeted as liberators,” such assurances are as comforting as “the check’s in the mail.”

In addition to ending rent control, #98 would stop cities from zoning to limit height and density, and would end the state’s environmental protections on the use of land.  Just what we need in the era of global warming.  Don’t wealthy people have to breathe the same air?  Or, maybe they’ve got something up their sleeve?

In my opinion Prop #98 is so onerous that it’s no wonder there’s a long list of those against it: the Venice Town Council, the League of Women Voters, AARP, environmental and tenant groups, labor unions, League of Cities, the California Chamber of Commerce and even Governor Schwarzenegger who issued a statement, “While eminent domain is an issue worth addressing, Proposition 98 would undermine California’s ability to improve our infrastructure, including our water delivery and storage.”  

Fortunately there is hope. Prop 99 does address eminent domain abuses and without a hidden agenda. If  #99 passes and gets more votes than #98, it will become the law.  The editorial boards of 85% of the newspapers in the state have come out against #98, and most are in favor of #99. Now if only the “No 98/Yes 99” had $7 million in the bank like the landlords. 

Before I go, I have to be totally candid. I don’t have a sea shell collection. I suppose with only 10 days until the election, I’d better hurry up and start one.  Until then, remember, “Hate 98, 99 is Fine.”

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