Orange County’s first rent control law is safe — for now — after efforts in Santa Ana to overturn the city’s newly-passed ordinance failed Monday.
The landlord interest group leading the repeal effort — organized under the name Santa Ana for Fair & Equitable (SAFE) Housing — announced in a Monday statement that “we have ended our effort and will not be submitting signatures that we have gathered.”
The group is now looking at filing complaints about alleged violations of state public meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, when the council discussed the policy throughout October and voted on it that month, according to the statement.
The California Apartment Association set up a political action committee for the SAFE Housing group in September, prior to the council finalizing the rent control ordinance in October.
The group laid out complaints in its Monday statement regarding alleged intimidation of signature-gathers and voters by political opponents in town who support the new law.
Yet the anti-rent control effort itself faces claims that canvassers misled voters around town regarding the purpose of their signature-gathering activities.
The landlord group has not offered a detailed response to such claims in its Monday statement.
Instead, the group announced it’s “reviewing multiple complaints” regarding alleged intimidation of signature-gathers and voters by opponents in town who support the new law.
The landlord group also criticized Councilmember Jessie Lopez — a staunch supporter of the policy who voted for it Oct. 19 — for allegedly “confronting voters and petition gatherers in City of Santa Ana official clothing rather than campaign attire.”
Lopez in a Monday phone interview denied any wrongdoing, responding to the landlord group’s claims.
“They had 30 days, they had paid canvassers throughout the entire city working from Monday to Sunday, and how I am to blame for their failure is beyond me,” Lopez said. “I did not do anything illegal and I voted for rent control because it is a need in my city.”
She also expressed surprise that the effort came up short.
“I’m surprised, I’m not gonna lie,” Lopez said. “They had canvassers throughout the entire city, they had people door-knocking, so I thought they were going to get the signatures they needed.”
Tenants United organizer Mextli Lopez, who helped lead the counter-campaign against the signature-gathering effort, said “we showed up with cameras and cardboard signs” rebuking information that canvassers were giving to voters about their petition.
“They had people out there with signs that said ‘sign up here for rent control’ and they had canvassers saying their petition was to keep rents from going up,” Mextli Lopez said. “We would have never organized to supervise and document the canvassers signature gathering efforts if we hadn’t received reports of and personally experienced canvassers lying” about the petitions.
Mextli Lopez said “no member of our group ever harassed anyone or participated in any intimidation.”
SAFE Housing quoted criticism of the activists’ counter-organizing by Victor Cao of the California Apartment Association, who called it “ironic” that “in 2018 and 2020, proponents for rent control said in their campaign materials to ‘Let voters decide the future of Rent Control in Santa Ana.’”
“And yet this year they opposed letting citizens decide its fate. Instead, they engaged in harassment of voters and canvassers, and numerous other violations of state and local campaign and ethics laws that will be detailed in the weeks ahead,” Cao said.
Mextli Lopez said, “It’s really upsetting to me that they would accuse us of intimidating anyone when there are so many examples of them being the aggressors in our community.”
SAFE Housing under state law needed to submit 12,548 signatures, or 10% of the city’s 125,479 total registered voters, to the City Clerk’s office today in order to set a referendum in motion.
If the group succeeded and gathered enough signatures, the City Council would be left with the option of either overturning the rent control ordinance or putting it on the ballot for voters citywide to have the final say in an election.
The anti-rent control group had 30 days to canvas voters, following a narrow majority vote by the City Council passing rent control into law Oct. 19.
The deadline fell on Saturday, and the group by law could not collect signatures on Sunday, but the city allowed the option of submitting the paperwork Monday.
City Clerk Daisy Gomez said in a Monday email that she did not receive any signatures from the anti-rent control group.
The council’s October vote passing the rent control ordinance faced heavy pushback from landlords and building industry groups.
Opponents argue the Santa Ana council majority hastily approved the new ordinance with little public outreach, binding landlords to tighter restrictions on their ability to raise the rent on people and evict them.
Rent control supporters argue it’s a necessary tool to keep Santa Ana’s renter-heavy and working-class population safe from unreasonable rent increases, citing a housing affordability crisis along this coastal Southern California region.
The city’s new rent control law caps rent increases at no more than 3%, or 80% of the local inflation rate, whichever is less.
It also applies only to residential buildings constructed before Feb. 1, 1995, or to mobile home spaces offered for rent before Jan. 1, 1990.
The ordinance goes beyond existing state rent control law, which effectively caps rent increases statewide at 10% annually.
And a new “just cause” eviction ordinance, approved by council members alongside rent control last month, limits the reasons a renter can be booted from their unit.