Let My People Go
Santa Cruz Renters sing:
Well, I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home
A band of Angels coming after me
Coming for to carry me home
Santa Cruz Landlords respond:
We’ve seen this movie before.
Rent Control Fear in River City: Anti-Rent Control People Win One Battle, 17-14
The evening council meeting on March 27th was all about housing, and it appeared to pit a large group of renters against an even larger number of landlords, developers, and real estate interests. It was a night when the California Apartment Association perhaps out-organized the Movement for Housing Justice and Students United with Renters. Maybe the two latter groups didn’t show in even greater numbers because they were out gathering signatures on the rent control petition. As 31 people addressed the council on the agenda item, the Housing Blueprint Committee Report, the landlord-developer group won my unofficial tally, 17 speakers opposed to rent control and 14 were in favor. This housing committee is made up of councilmembers Watkins, Chase, and Brown, and even though rent control is not really part of the committee’s charge, the public clearly showed up to either support or denounce rent control.
After hearing from city staff and the public, the final results on the council side of the podium were minimal. No actual housing or city resources would be expended, just more time to study the housing issue. The final motion included language that requested the Housing Blueprint Committee and staff “to prioritize specific projects that may yield more immediate results, specifically highlighting ADUs and legalization of unpermitted units and inclusionary rates…” All good stuff if enacted, but council direction seemed to be to simply study the issue more and return to council at a future unknown date. Councilmember Brown and I were able to get a slight opening on the 20-25% housing inclusionary that Brand-New Council candidates campaigned on in 2016. In the end, Councilmember Cynthia Mathews tossed a bone by including this language in the motion: “Explore an increase in the inclusionary rates.” Oh yeah, one BIG concession too: staff was directed to send letters to all landlords and let them know, ‘er…by the way, the city is in a state of emergency with respect to housing and you are hereby directed by the rent freeze ordinance NOT to raise the rent on your tenants.’ This last part of the motion is significant. But, isn’t telling landlords they can’t raise their rent prices a little bit like telling Donald Trump he can’t Tweet? Folks, the fight is on.
Council Side Note
In the afternoon city council session, the developer dream of “Density Bonus Provisions for Affordable Residential Units” (sounds pretty good, but there would be very little affordable anything in actual practice), which means adding more floors if the developer provides a unit or two of affordable housing–was unexpectedly sent packing, at least for the moment. The city council, on a 4-3 vote (Watkins, Chase, Brown and Krohn in the majority) requested the density bonus issue go back to the Housing Blueprint Committee. Seems like that committee was snubbed by the Planning Department, which bypassed them and went straight to council with this ever-so urgent (NOT) request.
Blood on the Tracks: Santa Cruz Together Turns Out a Crowd Ready to Fight Rent Control
I went to several public meetings this week, but one I attended is rather memorable. You’ve likely heard that the making of public policy is often compared with sausage-making? Well, what happened in the Police Community Room on Center Street last Wednesday (April 4) night was a window into the process of making fire and brimstone. A new pro-property group, Santa Cruz Together, called for a meeting to discuss some tactics and strategy on how to defeat the as yet qualified rent control ballot initiative. Speakers that night seemed to firmly believe it will be on this November’s ballot. Dan Coughlin, self-identified as having a “business degree,” and Lynn Renshaw, “MBA from UCLA,” presided over a packed house of 100-plus. While Coughlin emphasized the group was comprised of “property providers,” and “mom and pop landlords,” Renshaw laid out an analysis of where the Santa Cruz bubble might go if rent control passed at the ballot box. “It imposes burdensome relocation fees… [with a rent board] there’s no sufficient oversight and it sets its own salaries…impartiality is not required…someone who is not credit-worthy still gets a sub-lease.” In addition, she offered some overhead slides for the crowd to chew on: 37,672 register voters in the city, 13,205 single family home owners, 14,643 renters in houses, and 9,824 tenants renting apartments. I think she was trying to get across the point that a great effort by this group would have to be undertaken if rent control was to be defeated. Then it was back to Coughlin for some basic strategy points: 1) “speak from the heart,” 2) “acknowledge the plight of the tenant,” and 3) “don’t pick fights with students.” Pretty good advice! Coughlin also added, “This campaign was born out of the NextDoor site, if you are not on it, get on it.”
City Council is ‘Meeting-Light’ this Week
The often obscurely written Santa Cruz city council agenda, while still obscure this past week, was on the lighter work side. Of course, there are the usual BIG-sounding topics: Climate Action Plan Update; city give-away of “encroachment permit for Astound/Wave Broadband” network for more lousy cable deals; and lots of money being spent by the H20 department for an “inflatable dam rubber bladder replacement project” at $200k, and a “professional services contract” ($173k) to plan for a “capital improvement project” for the Laguna Creek and Major Creek diversion facilities. The council was also asked to approve “right of way” permits at seven locations, the most controversial being Swanton and W. Cliff, for the coming Jump bike stations program. Perhaps the most significant issues were two items referred to the “closed session” agenda: “Arlt v. City of Santa Cruz,” concerning the death of a local Dad, Sean Arlt, at the hands of SCPD and the “negotiations” concerning the “Skypark” property the city owns in the middle of Scotts Valley, site of an old airport. The real fireworks may occur later in the evening when there will be a joint city council-water commission 7pm meeting. Since the BrattonOnLine deadline comes before the council meeting, I will let you know next week if we take up the chorus that I am continually hearing from Santa Cruzans: My water bill is too damn high! Will our sky-high water bills be the elephant in the room, or take center stage? See you next week.
Bernie Tweet of the Week
“I want to thank the teachers across the country who are saying loudly and clearly that taking care of our kids and schools is more important than giving tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations.” (April 3)