Majority Report, May 2018

On the picket line with my union UPTE—United Professional and Technical Employees at UCSC, standing with AFSCME—American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees as they fight for Equality!

Report from the Front Lines

Rent Control on Fire

There it was in this past Monday’s, Santa Cruz Sentinel, the headline read, “Santa Cruz rent control campaign hits signature goal.” Over 9,000 signatures were collected locally, and according to someone who logs and checks all those petitions, an additional 1000-2000 were also collected, but couldn’t be included because they were from voters in Watsonville, Live Oak, Aptos, and even Scotts Valley. So, rent control fever appears to be alive in the entire county! Or is it? We all know that signing a petition to get something on the ballot before the voters is perhaps more about supporting the concept of “direct democracy” than necessarily what’s written on the petition. We can still support democracy by petition and be opposed to the issue when we’re in the voting booth, can’t we? What this rent control petition has done though is grab the real estate community by the lapels, and that group is somewhat shaken now. If the petition is approved, we then have the opportunity for a real community-wide dialogue about our housing crisis. I believe most people in this community want such a discussion…and most I’ve talked to also want some immediate ACTION too.

Talk of Substitute Initiative

But wait?!? Several emergency meetings and late night discussions were held recently among members of the Movement for Housing Justice (MHJ) over possible changes in the initiative. Petition circulators were being sensitive to problems brought forward by both tenants, landlords, and homeowners about how the current rent control ballot initiative might be tweaked to satisfy more people. MHJ was seeking more community-wide agreement. Of course, the original petition authors cannot change the petition language itself, which likely 10,000 city residents will have signed when, and if, they turn them in. But, the Santa Cruz City Council could put forward a substitute initiative, one crafted by members of the Movement for Housing Justice and incorporating certain changes in language, ones that came up again and again in front door and shopping center discussions between signers and gatherers. My experience with the MHJ group is that they want as many content Santa Cruzans to come out of this process as possible, while still staying true to their actual goal of bringing some justice for renters that certain landlords can live with in this crazy Santa Cruz housing market. So, the changes that are being looked at have to do with relocation assistance, eviction policies, and rent board salaries as I understand. A deal may be in the works, but I’m not sure anyone should hold their breath. I would indeed guess that some form of rent control will be before the voters this November.

How Did We Get Here?

This Santa Cruz housing crisis was not born overnight. While there has always been tensions between UCSC’s student population and off-the-hill community members competing for available housing, it became much more acute as the 2005 Long Range Development Plan played itself out over the last decade. Housing 50% of the students back then was a helluva a lot more bearable than it is today…and while adding 10,000 more is problematic, the big elephant in the room is the exorbitant rates UCSC charges students to live on campus. Along with passing some form of rent control, those dorm charges have to come down 30-50% if students and non-students are going to find any relief on the housing front. In addition, as I sat in Zachary’s the other day in less than an hour I counted FOUR Google and Apple buses traveling down Pacific Avenue picking up tech workers. Folks, we gotta crisis!

Two More Parts of the Housing Problem

Short-term Vacation Rentals (STRs) make up a significant portion of the lack of housing for students and workers in Santa Cruz. The city council passed an STR ordinance limiting the number of these permitted rentals to 550 overall, but there is a sense that more people might be renting their places out under STR, but without a city permit. The other matter that impacts housing here is the gap between wages and the cost of rent. If we really want people to have a chance of living in the community they work in then we must seriously address the paltry $10.50 an hour minimum wage now in place. Isn’t it time to bring the “Fight for $15” to Surf City?

Addendum Notes

  • The city’s establishment is collectively holding its breath until the June 5th ballotvote, i.e. sales tax increase worth approximately $3million to city general fund…so, no library-garage issue meeting; no city council budget sessions until June 6th; rather small council agendas, filled with “ministerial” items; smiles on all faces until vote is in. By the way, voting started Monday, May 7th when mail-in ballots went out to voters!

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