by Lynda Carson
Oakland – The June 3 ballot has a dangerous measure known as Proposition 98, the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act. If passed by the voters, Prop 98 would terminate rent control and other tenant protections and would place homeowners at risk by allowing unscrupulous property owners to challenge existing building codes and zoning laws.
Prop 98 is one of only two state ballot measures coming up in June; the other is Prop 99. Both competing measures are meant to prevent government from taking private property by eminent domain for another private use, responding to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision allowing the government to seize property not only for public purposes such as schools and highways but to turn over to private developers.
Prop 98 is also a stealth measure that guts protections for land, air, water, species and natural resources, according to a legal analysis by the environmental law firm of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger.
“That is a big resounding NO on Prop 98,” says low-income Oakland renter Rodney Younger. “I am an African-American parent with a son and a daughter to protect, and Prop 98 takes away our rights to defend our housing if it passes.”
On April 25, the Apartment Owner’s Association (AOA) of California held a seminar at Oakland’s Hilton Hotel which included eviction workshops. According to Lauren Wheeler of Just Cause Oakland, which held a morning protest with other groups in front of the hotel, “Close to 80 people showed up to protest against the AOA event that teaches landlords how to evict tenants.”
“We wanted to let them know that we will not let them end renters’ protections … that Prop 98 would result in the eviction of thousands of Oakland renters and that people should vote no on Prop 98,” said Wheeler.
Efforts by community groups and organizations attempting to defeat Prop 98 have spread across the state of California. “To save rent control and tenant protections, everyone must vote against Prop 98,” says Anne Omura of the Eviction Defense Center (EDC) in Oakland. “If Prop 98 passes, it will be a disaster for tenants because they will lose all of their rights to defend themselves from unfair evictions and unreasonable rent increases that cause homelessness. I’m urging people to register to vote so they can defeat Proposition 98 by voting No on this disastrous measure.”
Unless defeated, Prop 98 would eliminate rent control and other renter protections, such as laws against unfair evictions, for the timely return of security deposits, for 60-day notices before renters are forced out of their housing and against renters being evicted due to home foreclosures. Prop 98 would also outlaw local affordable housing and inclusionary zoning requirements and would jeopardize laws protecting the disabled and seniors from drastic rent increases or evictions.
At a meeting in downtown Oakland April 10, housing activists and attorneys who handle landlord-tenant disputes listened to a legal analysis of Prop 98 by local attorney Jorge Aguilar, who spent three years and more with the Eviction Defense Center before moving on to a different law firm. There was a great sense of anxiety by some in the room who felt that many tenants and homeowners across the state may be tricked into voting against their best interests on June 3. Attending the meeting were Oakland’s newest Rent Adjustment Board member, Shenae Franklin, who was there as an individual, plus Adam Gold of Just Cause Oakland, Dean Preston of Tenants Together, Anne Omura, Brenda Adams and Chris Beaty of the EDC, Marc Janowitz of the East Bay Community Law Center, Luz Buitrago of the Law Center for Families, and attorneys Leah Hess, Jeffrey Carter, Jesse Newmark and Marta Jimenez of Sentinel Fair Housing.
“Aside from eliminating rent control, renter protections and inclusionary zoning (affordable housing) requirements, Prop 98 is a huge attack on homeowners because existing well established zoning laws and building codes meant to protect cities and neighborhoods from unscrupulous property owners may all be challenged if Prop 98 passes,” says Jorge Aguilar. “If passed, Prop 98 will allow challenges to all existing laws established to protect clean water and the environment. Prop 98 aims to eliminate existing building codes that may be considered an ‘economic benefit’ to renters and a ‘taking’ from the landlord, because it costs the landlords money to properly maintain their buildings for the tenants in an effort to stay in compliance with city, state and federal laws. What’s to keep someone from placing a ‘pig sty’ next to someone’s home if Prop 98 passes?” asks Aguilar.
Indeed, that’s the same type of question arising in the minds of city officials and city redevelopment agencies across California. In an effort to defeat the disastrous effects that Prop 98 may cause, the League of California Cities placed Proposition 99, the “Homeowners and Private Property Protection Act,” on the June ballot. It purports only to protect residential property from eminent domain, leaving rent control and other such laws intact.
If Prop 99 gets more affirmative votes than Prop 98 does, Section 9 of Prop 99 nullifies any elimination of rent control, tenant protections and other laws engendered by Proposition 98.
Waging war on renters
A statement titled “How to end rent control now” in support of Prop 98 by the president and CEO of the Apartment Owners Association of California, multi-millionaire Dan Faller, asks, “Won’t you join AOA in this major battle – no, I mean WAR – to win back our economic freedom?”
“You are either for us or against us in this war for your freedom. Please choose now and start taking action. The CPOFPA (Prop 98) is our best chance to get rent control on the path to elimination. Please join AOA today in this major War for your economic freedom by contributing at least $50 per unit.” Faller concludes, “We must all be united to win this one.”
Calling politicians terrorists, Faller says, “We can wipe out these terrorists and not one drop of blood need be shed!” Faller says that the AOA has already spent $325,000 to finance the Prop 98 campaign.
According to Lauren Wheeler of Just Cause Oakland, “Prop 98 is an attempt to end rent control, and it is real devious because it’s promoted as being about eminent domain. We need people to help with our phone-bank efforts and our precinct walks. We also need Spanish bi-lingual speakers to volunteer. Please feel free to check out our website at www.JustCauseOakland.org or call us at (510) 763-5877.”
Lynda Carson may be reached at email@example.com.