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Santa Monica Council Votes to Explore Scaled-Down Rental Ballot Measure


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By Jorge Casuso

June 27, 2018 -- Scaling back a request to explore two far-reaching rental ballot measures, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to draft a Charter Amendment setting a 2018 base rent if California voters repeal vacancy decontrol.

Council members were hesitant to explore the two measures proposed by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) that would have expanded local rent control and set a tax to build affordable housing.

The proposed measures were staunchly opposed by local apartment owners ("Council to Discuss Ballot Measures That Could Dictate Future of Santa Monica Rent Control," June 26, 2018).

The scaled-back motion was meant to quell fears among Santa Monica landlords that local controlled rents could be rolled back to 1978 rates if the statewide Affordable Housing Act is approved in November.

The ballot measure would give counties and cities with rent control, such as Santa Monica, the authority to expand their laws ("Statewide Measure to Repeal Vacancy Decontrol and Expand Rent Control Makes Ballot," June 15, 2018).

"There's panic in the streets, and we can forestall that in Santa Monica," said Councilmember Keven McKeown.

Mayor Ted Winterer was one of the other five council members (Pam O'Connor was absent) who backed McKeown's motion to explore a measure that would roll back base rents to January 1 of this year.

"Landlords are panicked," Winterer said, adding that there was talk among landlords of "having fire sales on buildings."

Initially, Councilmembers Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich, proposed exploring placing the two ballot measures proposed by SMRR on the November ballot.

SMRR's proposal -- which McKeown called "innovative" and "groundbreaking" -- would, among other provisions, place rental units in buildings built between 1979 and 1999 under rent control jurisdiction on January 1, 2019 with a January 1, 2018 base rent.

It also would "place rental units in buildings built after 1999 (other than single family homes and condominiums) under rent control on the 20th anniversary of their certificate of occupancy with base rent being the rent as of one year prior."

In addition to expanding local rent control, SMRR's proposal calls for a 4 to 5 percent "windfall profits tax on rental income collected by property owners."

The majority of the Council wasn't prepared to back measures they feared could have far-reaching unintended consequences.

"I'm concerned about the long-term implications," said Mayor pro-tem Gleam Davis. "What would be the effect on new construction, on rental housing. We woul need to do a full-blown study.

"Once it's in the charter, it's not easily fixed.”

Winterer agreed it was wise to delay placing a measure based on SMRR's proposal on the November ballot.

"There is a raft of decisions I'm not comfortable can be made in 30 days," he said. "I don't think we should rush this prematurely. I wish this had come up a lot earlier."

Himmelrich noted that some of the provisions in SMRR's proposal to expand rent control could be taken up by the Rent Control Board, which has the authority to regulate rents.

In the end, Council directed staff to study the policy implications of SMMR's proposal and return with a well-thought out set of options in January.

That motion also passed unanimously.


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