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Mountain View council's rent control amendment falls flat with voters

Measure D was the Mountain View City Council’s attempt at a compromise proposal that would retain rent control while cutting the landlords some slack. But voters, in a city in which approximately two-thirds of the residents are renters, weren’t having it.

The measure, which would have raised the cap on annual rent increases to 4%, was soundly defeated in the March 3 primary election.

With 90% of all ballots counted as of Wednesday (March 11), Measure D was losing by a wide margin. Tallies showed 69.38%, or 14,341 voters, were against the initiative, while 30.62%, or 6,328, supported it.

With help from the California Apartment Association (CAA), council members put forward an initiative that not only increased the cap, but also allowed additional rent increases that qualified as safety upgrades to buildings. Officials with the powerful lobbying group have indicated they intend to place their own initiative on the November ballot – a move that opponents have termed a “sneaky repeal” of the city’s rent control law.

Resident Joan MacDonald, who led the effort for voter-approved rent control under 2016’s Measure V, said CAA shouldn’t even bother with its own initiative.

“Frankly, unless CAA wants to spend a lot of money, I think, with the defeat of Measure D, their sneaky repeal could go down in flames even more,” she said. “Voters are smart enough to follow the money.”

MacDonald saw Measure D results as “a referendum on the compassion and desire for our city to be diverse in all kinds of ways.”

CAA spokesman Joshua Howard did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Measure V currently limits rent increases by the rate of inflation, usually between 2.5% and 3.5%. The law applies to approximately 13,500 units in the city, more than 70 percent of the total number of apartments. Opponents of Measure D feared the addition of upgrade costs could result in increases of 10% or more.

Yet Measure D proponents in mailers portrayed the initiative as enhancing rent control. They cited claims such as “limiting rent increases to 4% a year” and “making apartments safer and more energy efficient.”

Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga led a contingent of high-profile officials voicing support for the measure. Other backers included fellow council members Chris Clark, John McAlister and Lisa Matichak; Fiona Walter of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees; and Mike Kasperzak, former mayor and council member.

“Measure D protects renters from excessive rent increases, protects taxpayers and encourages the preservation of affordable housing,” Abe-Koga said in mailers.

The council majority justified Measure D as a possible counter to the growing trend of landlords selling apartments off to developers rather than deal with rent control. Those developers would rebuild and charge market rates. A state law dictates that rent control does not apply to housing built from 1995 onward.

CAA led the pro-Measure D campaign contributions with $193,000 as of Feb. 20.

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