Beyond the pandemic and the protests, it’s already been a marathon week for the city council. With the Monday night meeting on June 8, 2020 used to name appointees to boards and commissions, an additional Tuesday night meeting to discuss adding ‘slow streets’ and open sidewalks, and tonight, they will come back to rent control.
The controversy over rent control has been a close match between the newly progressive council and a political action committee freshly minted to address the regulations. The loosely organized “Protect Culver City Renters” pushed the council to start the process last August with a rent freeze and rent increase moratorium. That spurred the creation of a political action committee called “Protect Culver City,” which moved quickly to gather signatures for a petition to overturn the ordinance.
So, the first thing to notice is the name game. When you have an organization called “Save the River” and someone else creates an organization called “Save the River Now,” there could be some confusion.
If you know the game, you know confusion is the purpose.
According to a study by BAE Urban Economics, renters make up 48% of the households in Culver City, and 43% of these households are categorized as ‘rent burdened,’ meaning that they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The average monthly rent in Culver City increased by nearly 45% over the past decade, rising from an average of $1,785 per month in 2011 to $2,580 in 2020.
It’s pretty easy to take a look at those statistics and think that rent control is needed. If you count the number of sleeping bags on the sidewalk, you can understand what inspired “Protect Culver City Renters” to seek legal protection from the city.
“Protect Culver City” is organized as a political action committee, so they have all kinds of legal papers on file.
That they quickly raised $30,000 to support the petition was intriguing; the speed with which that was accomplished made it likely that the bulk of that funding came from a few individuals. While PCC maintained that all of their fundraising came from Culver City, many of the addresses on their donor form are from outside; Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Manhattan Beach, San Diego. The largest donation, $6,000, came from one individual whose residence is listed in Los Angeles.
So, not the collection of Culver City ‘mom and pop’ landlords that has been presenting at council meetings, but some folks who probably own property here. There are people who live in Culver City, and own property here, who are part of “Protect Culver City” but it is not an exclusively Culver City based organization. Much, if not most, of their funding is from outside.
PCC also retained a San Francisco based law firm, Dhillon Law Group. Why go all the way to SF for a lawyer? Dhillon Law Group are the ones who represented Ann Coulter in her ‘Free Speech’ suit against UC Berkeley, and there are pics of Coulter, Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos featured as clients on the home page of the firm.
The organization that was hired – Initiative and Referendum Campaign Management Services – paid canvassers and sent them out door to door to get signatures. Volunteers from the PAC did some strategic door knocking as well. But a number of people in the community stepped forward to complain that the canvassers were misrepresenting the petition. Whether this was a conscious choice to deceive, or just poorly trained people, can’t be proven. But when more than a dozen people report being deceived into signing something they did not agree with, it looks bad.
If people signed thinking that they were protecting rent control – back to the name game – and later discovered that they were signing a petition to negate the rent control that had just been started in the city, there is no way of knowing how many of those signatures were gathered under false pretenses.
Imagine if you were a supporter of Save the River, wanting to stop pollution from unregulated sources, and you signed a petition to Save the River Now. Then you found out what the petition said was that after a 30 day window, there would no longer be any regulation against pollution, you might feel you’d been used.
Nevertheless, the ‘rent control’ petition achieved the required amount of support, and is cleared for the ballot in November.
Tonight will be the next move on the part of the city council, and the meeting is sure to be a long one. While there are rent control measures in place in both the county and the state, the city has the legal right to enact rent control in whatever specific way it chooses.
Any political action committee has the right to put a measure on the ballot; all it needs is enough signatures.
But when their fundraising goes as far south as San Diego, and their legal representation goes as far north as San Francisco, claiming to be a locally supported group is simply dishonest.
There are local landlords who will be challenged by rent control, and the city has an eye towards keeping the Culver City property owners in the conversation. The outside interests – corporations who own property here – know that a city council can do a lot to limit their profits. Where one city council succeeds, others may follow.
Anyone who has been involved in the game of politics, either as player or a spectator, knows that saving the river is going to take some time.