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From today's Beyond Chron.  Today is the 30-year anniversary of Prop 13.

I majored in political science at Cal – and while I had an excellent education, the Political Science Department was always a bit out of touch.  Today, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies will host a one-day conference on the 30th Anniversary of Prop 13 – where a field of experts will evaluate its “political, economic and fiscal impacts.”  Incredibly, none of them will talk about rent control (at least none of them are experts on it), although one of Prop 13’s most significant effects was the passage of rent control ordinances in cities throughout California.  Tuesday’s crushing defeat of Proposition 98 – sponsored by the same Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association that pushed Prop 13 in 1978 – demonstrates a statewide mandate for laws that protect tenants.  Any serious reflection on Prop 13’s thirty-year legacy must involve rent control.

In June 1978, the right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association pushed Proposition 13 on the ballot – amid rising property taxes and a deadlocked state legislature that wouldn’t solve the problem.  No doubt Prop 13 passed because elderly homeowners were afraid of losing the “American Dream,” but residential landlords also played a factor in making it happen.  Tenants were told that if Prop 13 passed, landlords would pass their property tax savings in the form of lower rents.  After they broke that pledge, rent control was born.

Nowhere is this more obvious than Berkeley – where tenant groups tried in vain to pass rent control in the 1970’s.  After a crushing defeat in 1977, rent control was presumed dead until Prop 13 passed the following year.  In November 1978, Berkeley voters passed Measure J – which mandated that landlords pass 80% of their Prop 13 savings to renters.  Two years later, voters enacted a permanent rent control ordinance – which is alive today.

A similar thing happened in San Francisco.  In 1978, voters narrowly defeated a measure to have landlords pass 100% of their Prop 13 tax savings to tenants.  Sensing that a rent control ordinance was inevitable, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Dianne Feinstein passed one in 1979 – which is why many San Franciscans can still live in the City today.  

Similar rent control ordinances also passed in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, East Palo Alto and Cotati – along with weaker measures in Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland.  Over 100 cities in California also have rent control for mobile home parks.  Today, over one million households across the state are covered by some form of rent control.

By 1980, landlords were so concerned about the growing momentum for rent control that they placed a statewide Proposition on the ballot to abolish it.  But a strong grass-roots movement defeated this measure, including TV commercials with actor Jack Lemmon.  Landlords did get the state legislature to pass the Ellis Act in 1986 and Costa-Hawkins in 1995, but they have never succeeded in completely killing rent control for thirty years.

Of course, Prop 13 had a huge impact on the California state budget that still haunts us today – along with decreased property taxes that have ruined our local public schools.  So it makes sense for the UC Berkeley forum to include budgetary experts.  But besides Terri Sexton, an economics professor at Cal State Sacramento who will talk about “Prop 13 and Residential Mobility,” none of them touch on housing.  And “residential mobility” will probably focus on Prop 13’s effect on homeowners (rather than just renters.)

It’s not like Berkeley’s Political Science Department could not find rent control experts to talk about Prop 13’s effect.  Myron Moskovitz (who was one of my law professors at Golden Gate University) wrote Berkeley’s Rent Control Ordinance, convinced Governor Jerry Brown to veto rent control repeal and is the state’s foremost expert on landlord-tenant law.  Marty Schiffenbauer led Berkeley’s rent control campaigns, both before and after the passage of Prop 13.  Both still live within walking distance of the Cal campus.

They could have also invited Christine Minnehan of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, who lobbies the state legislature on rent control issues – and was an aide to State Senate President David Roberti.  I can’t think of a better expert on the politics of rent control today, and she could provide detailed knowledge about Prop 13’s impact.  She lives in Sacramento, and could have come down to the forum.

Prop 13 plays a major role as to why Californians support rent control.  If homeowners have the stability of knowing that their property taxes won’t rise more than 2% a year, renters deserve to know their landlord can’t spike their rent during a real estate boom.  In 1978, homeowners voted for Prop 13 because they were afraid of losing their homes.  In 2008, tenants voted against Prop 98 because they were afraid of losing their homes.

When I was an undergrad at Cal, the Political Science Department sponsored a panel for students about what they can do with their political science degree.  But without thinking it through, they scheduled it on Election Night at 7:00 p.m.  I was too busy getting people out to vote, so did not attend – but I expressed my displeasure with the Department’s secretary.  Today’s forum proves that an “ivory tower” mentality still governs a public university that boasts one of the best Political Science departments in the nation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul Hogarth graduated from UC Berkeley with a Political Science degree in May 2000.  He was elected to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board later that same year, got his J.D. at Golden Gate Law School in 2006, and is now a tenants’ rights attorney in San Francisco.

Originally posted to Paul Hogarth on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 07:49 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Build more stuff (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:

    I'm amazed at the lack of density in that area, compared to, say, Chicago. Maybe building earthquake-proof structures is uber-expensive. Increased supply helps moderate prices during booms as well.

    "Senator Obama, I served with William Jennings Bryan. I knew William Jennings Bryan. William Jennings Bryan was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no William Jennings Bryan." - John McCain.

    •  Part of that is that rent control suppresses (0+ / 0-)

      new construction.  The relevant question is whether the pluses of rent control offset the negatives (like the disincentive for constructions)

      •  No it doesn't... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl, Paul Hogarth

        Rent Control, at least in Los Angeles, doesn't affect brand-spanking-new buildings. It only affects buildings built in 1978 and earlier.

        We must defeat John McCain. Period. End of story.

        by Pris from LA on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 08:30:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So that should actually spur construction on. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Pris from LA

          Interesting, and thanks for the correction.

          •  Why do you think... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Paul Hogarth

            ...there's so much action going on in Downtown LA, converting the oversupply of office space there into brand spanking new condos and rental lofts? The developers smell MONEY and know that even though these are older buildings they are rehabbing, that they have never seen residential tenants in their history. So they go under the radar of the LA Rent Stabilization Act.

            Oh BTW: the amount that can be legally raised on a Rent Controlled apartment has gone up slightly thanks to inflation. I got legally dinged 5% this time around. Still, I've been in this building for a ridiculous amount of time, moving once from a Studio to a 1 Bedroom, and my rent is very affordable. Affordable to the tune that the market rate is twice to three times the amount I pay. Goddess bless Rent Control, and thanks to Californians for preserving it. ^_^

            We must defeat John McCain. Period. End of story.

            by Pris from LA on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 11:00:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Funny how I get right-wing comments on Daily Kos (5+ / 0-)

      61% of California voters (in a very low turnout election) just came out to oppose Prop 98 and save rent control.  So apparently these comments do not reflect mainstream opinion -- let alone the opinion of left-wing bloggers.

      •  Way to convince somebody (0+ / 0-)

        Rent control is one issue I am vehemently opposed to. Housing for the needy is better provided with subsidies, not market distortion. Market distortion always, in some way or another, messes things up. Just look at Nixon and his disastrous price controls, which wrecked our economy with stagflation and sunk Jimmy Carter's reelection.

        Watch who you call "right wing" simply for disagreeing.

        By the way, have you seen some of the rent controlled apartments in New York? You'll understand.

        "Senator Obama, I served with William Jennings Bryan. I knew William Jennings Bryan. William Jennings Bryan was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no William Jennings Bryan." - John McCain.

        •  If you knew anything about the west coast... (3+ / 0-)

          ... and Berkeley in particular; you wouldn't so callously spout off your anti-rent screed.

          Learn a bit more of the demographics and geography before you so ignorantly offer your "expertise."

          I guess a living wage causes you heart palpitations as well.

          Vote for McSame; there's no convincing the likes of you anyway.

          Oh, and by the way, I own income property, I rehab structures of architectural distinction and have been involved in real estate in Berkeley for over 25 years.

          I'm also an advocate of rent control and vehemently opposed to any Jarvis/Gann money grabs that come down the pipe.

          A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude --Pablo Neruda

          by justiceputnam on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 09:23:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  You are EXACTLY right (0+ / 0-)

          Subsidies are absolutely the right way. Rent controls don't distinguish poor tenants and rich tenants, they put the entire burden on one group of individuals to fix a societal problem, they make it harder for tenants to move, they cause property deterioration, and I could go on

          Subsidies go right to poor tenants, have the public pay for it, empower tenants to have a say in the market and don't cause deterioration.

          The way I think of it, if housing the poor provides a benefit (which I think it does), the government should  justify it to the public and have the public pay for it. For them not to want to do that, and say "we don't want to bear the burden of it, so we're going to impose it all on those who have rental property" is abominable.

    •  Berkeley is the most dense... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nancy in Berkeley

      ... municipality in population and square miles in the state.

      Build more stuff?

      There are no in-fills to be had; I know, because I built one of the last remaining in the city.

      Typical right wing ignorance and knee-jerk market force bs.

      A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude --Pablo Neruda

      by justiceputnam on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 09:12:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rent control is illegal in most of the USA. (0+ / 0-)

    Most states have laws or constitutions that specifically ban rent control.

    Oddly, although the federal government messed with rent control in the 1970s, there hasn't been any further legislation from them on the subject since.

  •  Thank you! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justiceputnam, Pris from LA

    Thank you for raising this important issue, Paul! Here in Berkeley, rent control provides a larger amount of affordable housing than any other source.

    Congratulations to us all on the defeat of Prop. 98!

    "Action is the antidote to despair." --Joan Baez

    by Nancy in Berkeley on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 08:32:29 AM PDT

  •  Important issue... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justiceputnam, Pris from LA

    Too often (certainly here in suburban Maryland), all "affordable housing" means to local politicians is "subsidized mortgages" -- meaning a commercial real estate developer can convert an existing rental property to condo (or build a new multi-unit property), sell a certain percentage of units as MPDUs (Moderately Priced Dwelling Units), which are subsidized by the local government so the developer loses nothing, and the rest are sold at market rates. The developer gets all the profit up front, and goes on to some other project. But the moderate-income families or singles who used to rent  there are gone, and where there were once 300 affordable rental units, there are now maybe 30 MPDUs, and nothing for renters at all.

    We've seen rents jump 8%, 12%, as high as 50% (if you didn't sign another year's lease, but opted for month-to-month rental). The local government publishes guidelines with recommended rent increases -- usually 3-6% or something not too outrageous -- but the landlords can ignore those recommendations, and usually do.

    We have some groups locally that have been trying to organize and rally tenants on housing affordability and related issues (public transportation, schools, safety, maintenance of rental properties, etc.) -- it's a hard uphill slog, because politicians are used to ignoring those issues. Anything that smacks of rent control is anathema around here -- the powers that be are more than ready to forget renters actually exist.

    So it's good to learn that some parts of the country still HAVE rent control, and how it came about... maybe something we can learn from.

  •  I'm friends with Marty... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nancy in Berkeley

    ... he's a good guy!

    A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude --Pablo Neruda

    by justiceputnam on Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 09:13:45 AM PDT

  •  SF Chronicle also ignores rent control ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    skywriter, Pris from LA

    Today's Chronicle has a huge front-page story on the 30-year legacy of Prop 13 -- along with three opinion pieces on the editorial pages on whether it was a good thing. Although the Chronicle is the major newspaper of record for the Bay Area -- where four major cities have rent control (SF, Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose) -- none of the articles made any connection between Prop 13 and rent control.

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