With the price of homes and rents skyrocketing, more people are making the difficult decision to leave Marin for cheaper pasture. In January, the Apartment List, an online apartment listing service, found Marin County rents were up more than 16% since last January.
Sadly, increasing rents and unjust evictions in one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States are annihilating the diversity of the community. It’s obvious that Marin must act, but solutions often prove divisive, as a recent meeting of the San Anselmo Town Council made apparent.
Since last October, organizers with the Marin Democratic Socialists of America have been urging local cities to pass rent control policies. They argue that rent control is a simple solution to end the mass exodus of Marin’s youth, seniors and essential workers, such as teachers, firefighters and store clerks. Right next door in San Francisco, rent control and just cause eviction protections have shielded many tenants from price increases and evictions for decades.
Under a rent control ordinance, the amount a landlord can increase the rent each year is capped, often at a rate tied to the increase in cost of living. Tenants can’t be evicted on the whim of a landlord. Just cause evictions are permitted for tenant lease violations and specific situations, such as the landlord moving into the building or the demolition of the building.
Even the State of California jumped on the rent control train when lawmakers passed AB 1482, the California Tenant Protection Act of 2019. It offers renters some protections; however, not enough, according to rent control advocates. One criticism of AB 1482 is that it is difficult to enforce.
Under AB 1482, rents could rise up to 10% annually based on the Consumer Price Index. And, thanks to a previous state law, none of the rental protections apply to the rentals of single-family homes, condos or buildings built after 1995.
Every weekend for six months, supporters of the Marin DSA’s campaign have gone door-to-door or set up tables in front of grocery stores in San Anselmo, Fairfax and other parts of Marin to discuss the issue with neighbors and gather petition signatures.
The campaigners have collected 1,500 signatures countywide in support of rent control and just cause evictions, more than 450 from Fairfax residents and 350 from San Anselmo folks. The results have been shared with the town councils in Fairfax and San Anselmo.
Fairfax council members agreed to hear a presentation from rent control supporters a few weeks ago. After the presentation, the council directed town staff to draft a report on rent stabilization ordinance. The Fairfax staff report, which is on the May 4 town council meeting agenda, contains three options and recommends a rent stabilization ordinance.
Twice in April, the rent control supporters attempted to solicit a similar outcome with the San Anselmo town council. People shared their personal experiences and those of friends and family who were forced to leave San Anselmo. Young people starting out in their careers, elderly residents on fixed incomes and low-income earners are most affected by rising rents and are the first to leave their community.
A case in point is Curt Ries, who grew up in San Anselmo and met his wife, Kyle Marie, at the local high school. The couple graduated and moved away due to cost-prohibitive rents. After a decade of working, the couple was finally able to return home to live in San Anselmo. Ries, who is now employed by San Anselmo’s public works department, is aware that his family’s living accommodations are precarious without the adoption of rent control and just cause eviction protections. That’s one of the reasons Ries and Kyle Marie are active members of the Marin Democratic Socialists of America.
“More than one-quarter of the town’s population are renters,” Ries said in an interview. “We feel a constant sense of anxiety and stress about being able to keep up with rent increases. And there are no just cause eviction protections. It’s hard to report black mold, poor maintenance and insects, when you can be asked to leave.”
In the April 12 council meeting, the supporters’ request to place rent control on a future agenda was shot down. During a meeting on April 26, open public comment took approximately an hour, with the majority of commenters asking for rent control to be placed on a future meeting agenda.
A discussion made it clear that San Anselmo’s five council members are divided on the issue. Mayor Alexis Fineman and Vice Mayor Steve Burdo said they were moved by the speakers’ stories and agreed to place rent control on an upcoming agenda. Neither Fineman or Burdo are landlords.
Councilmember Ford Greene also agreed. Councilmembers Brian Colbert and Eileen Burke refused.
However, it was the remarks made by Green, Colbert and Burke, all landlords according to recent economic disclosure forms, that disappointed rent control supporters.
Colbert admitted he had “heard a lot of stories tonight” and received email, but that he hadn’t heard any stories of people’s rent being raised in an egregious manner.
Perhaps Colbert missed Donna Nicoletti’s story about a landlord doubling her rent, or maybe he doesn’t consider a 100% increase egregious. Burke said she agreed with Colbert.
But it was Greene’s response that surprised some. Anyone familiar with the slogans on Greene’s website, including “Fighting for freedom of speech since 1952” and “Restore Public Trust. Respect the People’s Choice,” couldn’t understand why he chose to criticize a display of local democracy—citizens speaking out about an issue impacting them.
“Simply because I’m willing to have the discussion shouldn’t be interpreted that I’m going to agree or support,” Greene said. “Yes, there’s community outpouring; that’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that it’s pretty coercive. We’re almost an hour and a quarter into our meeting, and we haven’t even gotten past public time. It’s very clear to me that if this isn’t agendized, every meeting we can expect what happened last meeting and this time. So, there is a certain coercive quality to that. I think the proponents ought to be aware that there is a certain coercion to it. Oftentimes that can backfire. But I’m not going to agree that necessarily there is going to be any sort of rent control in San Anselmo. I am willing to discuss it and talk about it. I don’t want in the future to have our meetings taken up with an hour and a quarter, an hour and a half worth of public comment forcing the issue.”
Apparently, a citizen exercising their right to speak at a council meeting can be perceived as a threat. Ries aptly summed up the likely reason for Colbert, Burke and Greene’s odd comments on the governmental process, rent control and just cause evictions.
“I will say anecdotally, through my experience canvassing, the only dedicated demographic that opposes rent control is landlords,” Ries said.
In the end, a vote of 3-2, with Fineman, Burdo and Greene assenting, has ensured that rent control will be on the future agenda of the San Anselmo Town Council.