By Jorge Casuso
June 15, 2009 – It was like old times at last Thursday’s Rent Control Board meeting in Santa Monica, as adversaries in the all-but-dead, 30-year rent control war skirmished over a proposed 1 percent rent increase that matched the smallest hike in the board’s history.
In the end, proponents of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), which has controlled the board since it was established in 1979, predictably won, as the board voted 4 to 1 to grant the lowest adjustment since it approved 1 percent hikes in 1998 and 1999.
Under the new annual adjustment, landlords can raise rents on units that fetch less than $750 a month by a minimum of $8 a month, while rents on units that fetch $1,650 or more can be raised no more than $16 a month.
Several SMMR leaders who testified in favor of the record-low increase -- Patricia Hoffman, Michael Tarbet, Dolores Press -- had been at the forefront of Santa Monica’s legendary rent war when it broke out three decades ago.
Opposing the proposed increase were longtime foes – WesWellman, Jim Jacobsen, Mathew Millen – who have been part of a waning opposition that began with an army tank circling City Hall when Jimmy Carter was still president.
Opponents of the proposed 1 percent hike argued that it bucked tradition, which calls for an increase that reflects the Consumer Price Index (CPI). They also argued that it failed to take into account rising sewage and water rates, as well as such costs as insurance payments and legal fees.
The lone dissenting vote was cast by Robert Kronovet, the only non-SMRR member ever elected to the board. Kronovet unsuccessfully argued for a hike of between 2.5 and 2.7 percent.
“The one percent increase may not be equitable,” said Kronovet, who won in a major upset at the polls last November. The rate hike should be “a number that’s bigger than one but doesn’t stretch up to four.”
Jim Jacobsen, who has represented landlords for nearly two decades, noted that while property owners will see a one percent hike, tenants are paying $13 a month in registration fees landlords are allowed to pass through to administer the rent control law.
And the board’s nearly $2.8 million budget the board approved Thursday night, Jacobsen noted, averages out to a salary of more than $100,000 for its 26 permanent employees.
“The poor people are coming to you saying, ‘Save us from the landlords,’ and when you look at it, you’re getting more than the landlords,” Jacobsen said.
Rent control staff says the 1 percent adjustment is justified in a tanking economy and that the board factored in increased water and sewage rates and the cost of gas for common areas such as laundry rooms. (“Proposed Santa Monica Rent Hike Matches Lowest Ever,” June 1, 2009)
Other factors were also considered, including “the lack of evidence of local cost reductions and the uncertainty of how long this economic downturn will continue,” according to the staff report to the board.