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Monday, September 20, 2021

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News + PoliticsBig-money interests seek to repeal rent control in Richmond

Big-money interests seek to repeal rent control in Richmond

Tenant groups say that pricey petition campaign is using misleading tactics to confuse voters

Richmond resident  Stacey Agnitsch says she was told a rent-control repeal petition was really to "support rent control."
Richmond resident
Stacey Agnitsch says she was told a rent-control repeal petition was really to “support rent control.”

By Tim Redmond

AUGUST 27, 2015 — A real-estate-backed effort to repeal Richmond’s rent-control law is attracting paid petitioners with an unheard-of price of $12.50 per signature – more than triple the highest price typically paid in the Bay Area.

And supporters of the law saw the people with the clipboards are putting out a misleading message, saying that the referendum will actually strengthen rent control.

No organization has yet publicly acknowledged funding the expensive effort, and we won’t know for sure until early September, when the paperwork is due, where the money is really coming from.

However, sources tell me that the deep-pocketed backer is the California Apartment Association, a longtime foe of rent control that could see Richmond as a bellwether. After the City Council approved a rent-control measure in that town, efforts have spread to other cities like Santa Rosa, where an organizing drive is underway.

Following the money trail takes you down the rabbit hole that is paid signature-gathering in California, where contractors and sub-contractors hire temporary workers who often travel the state in search of the quick cash they can make convincing voters to sign a petition.

In this case, Bay Area Petitions, which is based in San Francisco, is playing some role. The company’s phone message, aimed at paid petitioners, mentions the Richmond effort and the $12.50-a-name price. (In contrast, several other campaigns that company is doing pay $1 to $3 a signature.)

Repeated phone calls to the company’s main number were not returned. I called the number of a person named Paul, who was listed as a contact on the Bay Area Petitions message; he answered the phone and said he had nothing to do with the Richmond effort.

That work, he said, was contracted to Paul Olson, who runs Olson and Associates, a political consultancy firm in Tulare that normally works for Republicans.

Calls to Paul Olson were not returned. I reached Joel Olson, who is also listed as a contact at the firm, but when I started asking about the Richmond campaign he told me he was having trouble with his phone and hung up.

Reliable sources told me that the state Apartment Association was the client putting up the money. Repeated calls and emails to that organization were not returned.

In videos posted on YouTube, Richmond residents say they were given misleading information about the referendum. One woman says she was shopping at Safeway and was “asked to sign a petition in support of rent control.

“I pointed out to the person that it wasn’t in support of rent control it was to repeal the rent control ordinance that had just passed. …. She said she was confused and was not sure what she was presenting.”

In an interview with Channel 14, a Richmond man says he saw a table with signs saying that the petitions were in support of rent control. He signed the measure thinking it was “the opposite” of what it actually was.

Gabriel Haaland, East Bay political coordinator for SEIU Local 1021, which was one of the leading proponents of the rent-control law, told me that the union is asking the Richmond City Attorney and the county District Attorney to investigate possible violations of the state Elections Code. “Lying to voters is a crime,” he said.

In fact, state Elections Code section 18.600 prohibits signature gatherers from intentionally misrepresenting the measure “to any person who signs, or who desires to sign, or who is requested to sign, or who makes inquiries with reference to it, or to whom it is presented for his or her signature.”

A Richmond online newspaper set up by Chevron’s political consultants reports that petitions can be picked up or signed at the office of the West County Association of Realtors. But Mark Appel, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa Association of Realtors, told me that his group is not at all financially involved and is not paying for the signatures.

Rent-control supporters are mounting a counter-campaign to tell voters what this measure really is. It’s a referendum on the law the City Council passed, which means it’s a direct attempt to repeal the newest rent-control law in California.

My sources may be wrong; maybe another landlord group is funding this. But it’s somebody with a lot of money to spend. The referendum will need to gather about 4,200 valid signatures by Sept. 4. Since most petition drives expect at least a third of the signatures to be invalid, the landlord interests will have to collect closer to 6,000 to be sure.

At $12.50 a pop, that’s $75,000.

Full disclosure: I do some freelance work for Local 1021, editing the union’s quarterly magazine. I also am a guest lecturer at City College and I teach a course at the University of San Francisco and taught last spring at the SF State OLLI program. If anyone else offers me any paid gigs to supplement my modest 48hills salary, I will happily let you know.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Here’s a novel concept. How about taking a minute to read what the petition is about before signing it? People have to take the time to be responsible for their own actions instead of always pointing the finger at someone else and claiming that they’ve been duped. Nobody is forced to sign a petition!

  2. I find it hard to believe you. At one point you say you are a tenant, at another you’re a LL. You use words without regard to their meaning, seeking it seems invective, honest or dishonest.

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinions. However I don’t have to believe they are good for the City. And I don’t have to believe that good comes from breaking the deal you signed up for.

    As for myself (and I imagine a lot of longtime LLs) I am ‘house-rich’ and ‘cash-poor’. That RC applies to tenants who are poor or wealthier than I makes sense only in an atmosphere where a month’s deposit entitles you to almost all the benefits of homeownership with none of the liabilities. Rock on, my brother.

  3. Fundamentally disagree with much of what you’ve proposed. It’s preposterous to suggest that a landlord, who by definition has at least $1M worth of real capital, should be empowered to seek money from a tenant already being evicted from their home.

    No units should be removed from rent control. In fact, given the current climate, the best thing the city could do to push down on rental costs is place every single rental unit in SF under rent control. And I won’t shed a single tear for landlords.

    (And before you attack, I am, in fact, a landlord, too. Just one with a heart.)

  4. And while, effectively, many of the Ellis Act (EA) evictions are being done by LLCs, I would contend that thats due to the nature of restrictions continually put up to thwart using the EA.

    For a long-time+/or elderly LL, the costs of doing an EA eviction are just too much; along with the wait times. Its gotten to be that the corporate way is the only way.

    I agree the EA should be amended. For the owner of a single property (and those owning multiple RC props that are doing this simultaneously), the EA should be accessible via a 30/60 Day Notice; and return of Security Deposit minus uncollected capital improvements and LL portion of Rent Board fees. (in fact, they ought to be able to sue tenants for those back fees, up to the extent their rent was “stabilized” below what would have been asked). For LLCs and others, I would not be too concerned with the current situation. Oh, and Costa Hawkins (CH) should be amended to permanently remove that unit from RC once a “stabilized” tenant has ‘left the bldg’.

  5. It’s incredibly dishonest to claim that the majority of Ellis evictions in SF over the last few years are landlords actually going ‘out of business’. They’re generally not LLs who own a single building and are just trying to exit the market, they are multiple-building owners who are looking to cash in on the ridiculous current situation. The Ellis Act is being abused, and needs to be amended / repealed, along with Costa Hawkins.

  6. If the purpose of the law is to let the LL go out of business, then what do YOU think its intent was?

    Siddle’s comment seems to focus on retaliation (or exhaustion) for the perceived (or real) behavior of his tenants. That could certainly be a subset of the reasons for wanting to go OOB.

    However, business is primarily about economics. So perhaps the only reason for the LL to go OOB is the low rents and high expenses. What most outsiders are ignorant of is that there are other, non-financial reasons for wanting to go OOB: to loosen the burden of over-regulation, not wanting to be in an adversarial relationship, or simply wanting to get rid of an annoying tenant It doesn’t hurt when its economically advantageous to do so.

    But sometimes the non-financial outweigh the financial reasons. Sometimes it involves financial hardship. After all is said and done, its MY home (its called “peace of mind”).

  7. Prop 13 is actually a good example.

    The original or stated intent was to keep seniors from being taxed out of their homes. Now that could’ve been done in a number of ways ; But limiting the taxes on business property is certainly not one of those.

    That’s not to say that, in a legislative process, such a provision would not have been included. But it does speak to the special interests behind writing the measure.

  8. Nope. The Ellis Act is supposed to allow landlords to go out of business. Your misunderstanding of the purpose of the law betrays a real ignorance to the intent of the law, while you cling to the way the law is being abused.

  9. Oh yeah, they’ll go after them with all the power they have to… oh, wait. What? You mean that if they actually violate their lease, they can be evicted? And their only recourse is generally to sue (with all that money they have to hire decent lawyers).


  10. Yep. Mine is pretty cool, too. Repairs are taken care of promptly, we shoot the shit about him growing up in the Haight in the 60’s / 70’s when he comes over to check fire extinguishers, etc.

    There are a few people keeping it real in SF still…

  11. Very true. Many San Francisco tenants are absolutely ruthless and will go for the throat at the first sign of weakness from a landlord. It springs from their unending sense of entitlement.

  12. What.The.Fuck. I’m sorry you had to deal with this guy. He’s ridiculous…and possibly homicidal…Ugh, what’s wrong in peoples’ heads these days…

  13. Don’t bother. Here is Sam aka Siddle aka Phil being upset with me on this blog:

    “Yeah, I wonder what it is like to be Gary, who seemingly has no agenda or purpose in life other than to spy on his neighbors and rat them out for minor code violations.

    I suspect we might read about his abused, multiply-stabbed corpse being found in some alley in North Beach. And the police note that no neighbour can recall seeing what happened, with a glint in their eye.”


    That he wasn’t permanently banned for that is beyond me.

  14. I saw it too. A lot of your comments were deleted and others were edited by you.

    Also you wrote this gem, that equates ‘colored people’ with blight and crime:

    “Gentrification like that is a positive transition, even if it results in some displacement of poorer colored people of color, who are probably more suited to be elsewhere long-term anyway. It helps uplift property values for all us, while reducing blight and crime, and creating a more liveable environment.”


  15. Excuse you? So, now you think you’re going to berate me with all the charm of a Catholic nun and a wooden ruler. Thank you, no.

  16. Kim proposed a measure to force the giants to accept 40ft height limits and make the project 50% affordable. The giants project itself also has a measure, given that it is on Port of SF land, and need the approval.

    Kim withdrew her measure when the Giants agreed to 40% BMR. However, these signature gatherers were still collecting for it for a couple of weeks after she “withdrew” it.

  17. and here i kinda agree with wcw – although initiatives are a great way to address a subject, they invariably fall prey to those who sponsor/start/write them.

    While you may agree with 90% of the intention, the writers throw in their own bone that often times nixes the whole deal for me (wish I could remember some specific instances, but … oh – Prop B ’02 the pension reform bill that cements in police-fire excesses, even if the Pension Fund is not healthy, while they campaigned on just the reverse).

    At least the legis process allows for amendment, compromise and fine-tuning. With a ballot measure, what you get is – what you get; even if often times you don’t see what you’re getting.

  18. An initiative measure to block the Giant’s Mission Rock project? Are you referring to the “no wall on the waterfront” measure? If so, that wasn’t aimed at the Giants plan. If not, what was the fate of Kim’s measure?

    BTW, I talked to a signature gatherer one day. He was getting a lot more for an initiative supporting the Giant’s development than he was for the others he was touting. There was a bit of arm-twisting there.

  19. Becuz then the politicians will be in full, uncontested control – along with the Special Interests of various stripes.

    If there’s to be a citizen response, it should be organized and lead by citizens. No Paid Gatherers!

  20. When signature gathers near my work were collecting for Supervisor Kim’s measure to block the Giant’s Mission Rock project, they were selling it as a city project to build affordable housing.

  21. How is an attack on Redmond a reply to my post? I said only that initiative petitions are often misrepresented; that’s one reason you have to pay $12.50 per signature. Besides, just the per-signature sum being paid is noteworthy.

    The nature of the misrepresentation can be ambiguous — the one you cite would be an example — but the examples that Redmond gave were unambiguous. Even if a DA refused to take the case, you can make a lot of political hay out of highly paid signature gatherers lying to support an initiative by apartment owners.

    Redmond’s column is but one example of this. It’s ugly politics, and the people doing it have dirt on their hands.

  22. Things were fairly OK until the mid-1990’s or so. For the first 15 or so years of rent control, it was reasonable. Annual increases were at 4%, and owner-occupied 2-4 unit buildings were exempt. So you had many cases where landlords and tenants shared the same building, saw their interests as being aligned, and were friendly.

    But when increases were capped at less than CPI, and the small mom’n’pop building were brought under control, relations became much worse. Owners started trying to get tenants out and tenants started digging in their heels and passing ever more regulations.

    An owner who bought decades ago and wants an easy life might carry on in the manner cited. But it would be very hard for any recent purchaser of a building to that – rental yields are quite simply too low to make such buildings viable as is.

  23. It is a personal issue but that it is still wrong to berate others or treat them with less respect, just because they hold a different political outlook.

  24. Redmond only seems concerned about misrepresentation when he disagrees with the cause. I have had misrepresentations made to me by folks collecting signatures for progressive initiatives as well. Often it is the “lead” tagline they use to hook your interest e.g. “do you oppose racism?”

    The problem is that the nature of misrepresentation is at least partly subjective. And I doubt the DA would be interested either way.

  25. Before he admitted it down below, I was going to say this guy sounds like the typical young, entitled hipster that comes from money, has money, hoards money, and can’t relate to the real world…mini-Trumps…

  26. For some of us, this is a personal argument. Ask the people of Richmond how they feel about this subject. Ask the artists and native families in the City how they feel about it all. I know you won’t, because I’m sure those types are ‘beneath’ you.

  27. This kind of ‘person’ (I’m not convinced these guys qualify as human) is the new Bay Area normal. They’ve chased everything considered alternative as far away as possible from their base. The saddest part is that none of them have a conscious, nor do they have the ability to focus on a project long enough to observe the consequences. They’ll ruin our lifestyle here, then move on to the next ‘big thing’ in real estate and tech, leaving us to pick this place back up and put it all back together. These are the Use It And Toss It fanatics.

  28. It’s not ironic, at all. Richmond has taken the brunt of the mass exodus of middle and lower income families that were forced from the City and peninsula in the last 5 years. These are the people who have ALREADY lost their homes once and are just trying to live. But, you guys won’t let them…gotta have it all, right? YOU MUST HAVE MORE…crazy.

  29. In all honestly, look at what this person is writing, and realize they have no ability to sympathize or empathize. “The great unwashed masses”, using ‘lying’ as if they can differentiate between lying by omission or misrepresentation doesn’t equal lying, “riding the coattails of success”, and that horridly patronizing ‘bless their little cotton socks’…does any of this sound familiar? If you’ve dealt with many real estate investors, venture capitalists, CEOs, or tech moguls, this mentality should be VERY familiar. They can’t hide it…they think they can, but the fact is that they’re not normal.

  30. For once folderpete, I agree with you. It is common for signature gatherers to misrepresent the purpose of the initiative they are collecting signatures for. The trouble I see is that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that spending unrestricted amounts of money in the political process is an act of free speech. A clampdown on this process would probably invite a lawsuit.

    But Redmond points out that misrepresenting an initiative petition is a crime and this opens up some possibilities. 1) Require signature gatherers to wear identification tags showing who they are working for. 2) Videotape them making inaccurate claims and share the video with the local DA. This might help curb some of the worst abuses.

  31. And if I produce the links, you’ll admit you were proven wrong in both cases? I’ll do so tonight if we’ve got a deal!

  32. I’m not old. I’m probably younger than you.

    I don’t blame you for wanting a good deal but from a public policy perspective you have given no reason why you should be subsidized. If you can’t pay your own way then, sooner or later, you will need to find a more appropriate location, and make room for someone who contributes more.

    Landlords deserve financial success because they are providing something very valuable that you need – a home. Nothing is stopping you becoming a success instead of a perpetual tenant. Your choice.

  33. OK, so no links, evidence or proof for your claim? Got it.

    Not sure why you like race-based retail but that’s your thing.

  34. “…your endlessly self-serving sense of entitlement that somebody else owes you a living.”

    Wow, such a bitter old man. A regular Mitt Romney. I hardly need your or anyone’s approval.

    I don’t have tenants paying me so I can be a keyboard warrior and vilify those very people day and night. I work and pay a fair rent, and my landlords still drive fancy cars.

  35. My mistake, Spam, you wrote “blacks-only bookstore,” which I fixed above. I won’t bother searching for the links a third time. You’re worthless and can’t argue honestly.

  36. The law of unintended consequences applies to many politically-motivated laws. Something like rent control plays well to the great unwashed masses because they think they get something for nothing, and can ride on the coattails of the successful.

    But they only see the superficial aspects of the policy. they cannot see the insidious ways in which rent control restricts supply, suppresses turnover, pollutes LL-TT relationships and leads to evictions and conversions to TICs, condos, Airbnb and owner-occupation.

    Bless their little cotton socks.

  37. And that is why we have the Ellis Act – to put an end to your endlessly self-serving sense of entitlement that somebody else owes you a living.

    I note that you cannot cite one reason why any of us should care whether you can stay in SF or not.

  38. Yeah, and the funny thing is that if a landlord is “nice” then he or she generally ends up being taken advantage of.

    Generally speaking, the “nice” landlords are being replaced by aggressive landlords, because rent control pollutes the relationship. The phrase I hear from other landlords the most is “no good deed goes unpunished”.

  39. I have no recollection of either, and I note that you cannot furnish links.

    And Marcus Books is not a whites-only bookstore. It’s focus is black literature.

  40. This article just, again, reinforces for me the broken nature of our Initiative process.

    Paid signature gatherers should be banned. Signatures should only be gathered from grass-roots supporters of a measure. And Sig-gathering time should be extended to allow for this process.

    This would keep a lot of crappy initiatives off the ballot, and make sure the ones that do get on get on because a significant % of people actually believe in them.

  41. We’ll do this one last time, because I’m so bored with it.

    1. You denied ever calling Marcus Books a whites-only bookstore–until I posted the link of your doing the same. (Surprise: you didn’t own up to it.)

    2. You denied that the majority of San Franciscans supported a Mission building moratorium–until I posted the link to the Examiner poll showing that it did. (Rather than man up and admit you were wrong, you went on to attack the majority.)

    That’s two.

  42. Raz – I wouldn’t judge that relationship with your LL until after its over. And trust me, it will end some day.

    You happen to be the lucky winner by reason of longevity.

    I don’t know much about the Richmond RC measure; but I feel safe in assuming that its retro-active, so that it essentially nullifies a contract between two consenting adult parties. Be pleased to find out otherwise, as thats the only fair way to go. But tenant advocates don’t play well with ‘fairness’ – its all about the Power.

  43. “…more valuable people…”

    Ew, who’s the freak? (Sounds like my type of landlords–very successful multi-generational property owners and managers–are more valuable than the type you are, Spam.)

    “Rent control rewards incumbency and passivity.”

    Not at all. It just keeps greedy creeps like you anguishing over every penny they can’t wring out good working people. Too bad you can’t suffer in silence.

  44. Sure a few tenants do better, just like a few landlords make more money out of rent control because they know how to generate turnover.

    But why is it in the public interest that you and your friends stay here? How do we know that the people who would otherwise replace you wouldn’t be much more valuable people to have here?

    Rent control rewards incumbency and passivity. Whether you think that makes any sense is another matter.

    As for your freakishly generous landlord, know that he won’t live forever, and the new owner may take a very different view of your unsustainably low rents

  45. I post articulate comments that are on the topic. I don’t post here just to attack others, which is what you do.

    If you could refute me, you would.

  46. “Being uncivil to another poster is usually taken as an admission that you cannot counter his points.”

    Nah, it just means your points are too ridiculous to address.

  47. Sorry, not buying your bullshit. Rent control has kept me, my family and my friends in San Francisco. Also, we have a great relationship with our landlords of 20 years. They just did a huge retrofit of our soft-story building and didn’t pass a penny on to their tenants. Fix problems within 24 hours.

    Hard to imagine a professional yet non-greedy property owner in SF, eh Spam?

  48. I think that supply and demand would work in SF if we actually had a free market in housing. We do not, because there is a huge amount of political interference – rent control, the planning process, NIMBYs, taxes, fees and a mentality that appears to see those of us who provide valuable housing services as being some kind of enemy.

    Even so, if we could build 100,000 new homes tomorrow, housing costs would come down. But progressives won’t let that happen. Housing is expensive here because of politicians, and rent control is just one component of the type of meddling and interference that serves to make the city expensive.

    Ironically, Richmond is quite cheap. I have no idea why they think they need rent control.

  49. My comment was restricted to showing how it is possible to argue that rent control harms tenants. The arguments are made in much more depth here:


    You may not agree with those arguments but it’s not “lying” or dishonest to make those points or to have that debate. Indeed, rent control is illegal in thirty states for those very reasons.

    I meet a lot of tenants and, in particular, those who arrive here from other cities. They often criticize rent control because it makes it much harder for them to find rentals due to the hoarding of so many units – a direct consequence of the way rent control incentivizes tenants to never move.

  50. It doesn’t have to be Richmond. If you live ANYWHERE in the Bay Area, you’d know how wrong it is to defend these people.

  51. You provided background on a generalization that does not work here in San Francisco or any part of the Bay Area. Trickle-down economics lessons don’t work here, and supply-and-demand 101 doesn’t work on housing here. How could you possibly understand what’s happening to the people here?! The regular people, mind you…not your lobbyists or real estate tycoons and their politician-lined pocket gophers…but the real people that work for a living, run the public transit and schools, serve dinner at the restaurant on the pier to tourists spouting off about how we don’t understand the ‘realities’ of rent-control. The people this kind of shadiness and corruption directly and negatively effect are not interested in your ‘broader perspective’, as you call it.

  52. Yeah, ‘Siddle’ is pretty intellectually / morally bankrupt, judging by previous comments he has made.

  53. I don’t live in Richmond nor do I have any property investments there. I prefer more regulated markets as they are more profitable.

    But it does no harm to show both sides of the argument.

  54. Nope, I don’t live in Richmond and don’t give a crap what they do there. Just providing some background and a broader perspective.

  55. And, apparently, have people trudge through the internet looking for articles like these to pop long, Pro-Developer/RE Investor comments…I don’t suppose ‘Siddle’ has anything to do with those petition pushers falsely representing petitions in Richmond? Or know who does? hmm

  56. Dishonest lib-tards cannot deny rent control helps tenants. If it didn’t, why would the very people who represent landlords and owners being willing to pay so extravagantly, and to lie through their teeth, to repeal it?

  57. Stating that the measure to repeal rent control would help tenants is not a lie. It is simply a statement of the widely held belief that rent control actually hurts tenants, by encouraging evictions, encouraging a switch to short-term lets, encouraging the sale of units as TICs, encouraging condo conversions, deterring the provision of new rental buildings, and so on.

    In fact, cities with rent control typically have higher rents than cities that do not, because rent control deters the building and offering of rental housing. More generally price controls only work in the short term, in response to emergencies, wars and disasters. In the long run they squeeze the business, raising prices as supply shrinks.

    Rent control also pollutes the landlord-tenant relationship. Owners stop treating tenants as customers to woo, and instead regard tenants as parasites to be gotten rid of. While tenants in turn see landlords not as the provider of a valuable service, but as some kind of anti-christ.

    As we have seen in SF, what rent control really does is create winners (tenants who hoard a place for decades and landlords who get turnover) and losers (tenants who move or newly arrive, or landlords who gets stuck with lifer tenants). And the winners aren’t always the poor, nor are the losers always wealthy.

    In the case of Richmond, their rent control is very new, which means that the initial controlled rent will be very high anyway. So it really hasn’t had much chance to have an effect, and repealing it wouldn’t change much either way.

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