Santa Ana officials are pushing closer to putting a ballot measure in front of voters next year in November asking them if they want to affirm the city’s rent control law – the first of its kind in Orange County.
The measure could come alongside another ballot initiative supported by the city council majority that would allow undocumented residents to cast votes in mayoral and council elections.
Santa Ana has led the charge on rent control as residents across OC rally for their own cities to address skyrocketing rents.
On Tuesday, a majority of Santa Ana City Council members expressed support for putting an ordinance on the 2024 November ballot affirming the city’s rent control and just cause eviction law at the request of Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan.
Councilman Phil Bacerra, who opposed the law, questioned the urgency of putting such a measure on the ballot well ahead of the 2024 election instead of waiting for the mayor to convene an ad hoc committee to discuss city charter amendments in the spring.
“Not sure why we’re jumping the gun so early,” he said. “Councilmember Phan, is there a reason why you want this particular ballot measure to be brought back to the council so quickly rather than put it in with the rest of the potential ballot measures?”
“Because it’s important,” Phan responded.
Councilman David Penaloza said while he does not support the rent control law, people should get to vote on it. He and Mayor Valerie Amezcua also voiced support for convening an ad hoc committee to discuss various potential ballot measures.
Some officials last month expressed interest in potentially having voters decide on requiring a supermajority council vote to alter the rent control law.
Currently, only four votes are needed to amend the ordinance but Phan brought up the idea in August to require five out of seven city council members to alter the city’s rent control law that also limits a landlord’s ability to evict a tenant.
Santa Ana became the first and only city in Orange County in 2021 to approve a rent control ordinance after years of support from residents and opposition from landlords and industry groups.
Earlier this year, the Apartment Association of Orange County filed a lawsuit against the city calling the law “unconstitutional” and biased against property owners in Santa Ana.
Chip Ahlswede, a Vice President with the Apartment Association, said in a phone interview before Tuesday’s meeting that the proposed ballot measure was a “head scratcher.”
Ahlswede also criticized the city’s roll out of their registry of rental units in the city and said it requires more personal information than other rental registries across the state.
“I don’t understand why they’re going down that policy road, ” he said. “As we’ve tried to talk to them about all these issues, they’ve flat out ignored us at every step.”
The city rolled out their rental registry on Aug. 15.
In Santa Ana, the median gross rent is $1,726 and the median household income is $77,283, according to census data.
In Orange County, a single person making less than $80,400 qualifies for low income housing, according to limits from the state Housing and Community Development Department.
The maximum allowable rent increase in Santa Ana between Sept. 1, 2023 – Aug. 31, 2024, is 2.54%, according to the city website.
Meanwhile, calls for rent control and greater renter protections in OC grow louder amid rising housing costs across the Golden State.
In June, Buena Park officials adopted an ordinance prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants for renovations without first obtaining the necessary permits from the city despite pushback from state and local apartment associations.
Residents and members of Ahri – a Buena Park community group – this year have also pushed the city to follow Santa Ana and implement their own rent control ordinance.
Those calls also echoed in Costa Mesa earlier this year when a handful of promotoras – trained community health workers – called in Spanish for rent control at a public meeting.
And on the Coast, seniors living on fixed incomes in mobile home parks in Huntington Beach have routinely shown up to city council meetings calling in recent years for officials to implement a rent control specific to mobile home parks in Surf City.
Huntington Beach is also caught up in legal battles with officials in Sacramento over state mandated housing goals that forces Surf City to zone for thousands of new affordable homes as pressure to address California’s housing affordability crisis increases.
Ahlswede said he wouldn’t be surprised if other OC cities took up debates on rent control.
“The more they discuss it and take a look at what their real impacts of the policy are,they realize it’s not the right strategy for them and I’m sure that they will walk away from it as well,” he said.
“Rent control is not the answer.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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