Cohen moves to sideline opposition to ‘profoundly undemocratic’ state law

Tenant advocates fear that AB 943 could undermine ballot measures for rent control

Sup. Malia Cohen, unexpectedly and at the last moments of yesterday’s Board of Supes meeting, announced that she wanted to delay consideration of a measure to put the city on record opposing AB 943, the insidious measure aimed to limiting voter initiatives that challenge development.

That could slow down or derail city opposition to a bill that tenant advocates say is a serious threat to rent control.

The resolution, by Sup. Aaron Peskin, was on the agenda at the very end of the meeting, along with two other measures, one urging Wells Fargo to compensate employees fired for whistleblowing, and the other to accept the Planning Department’s report on an interim zoning issue in the Mission.

Sup. Malia Cohen blocked a resolution to oppose an anti-tenant state bill

Board President London Breed asked the clerk, Angela Cavillo, to call all three measures together, and all three were adopted without opposition.

Then, as the supes were getting ready to leave, Cavillo began calling out the names of the people in whose memory the meeting would be adjourned – and before she could get to the end, Cohen interrupted.

“Excuse me for a moment,” Cohen said, “but I was supposed to make a motion to send Item 59 to committee.” Item 59, of course, was the Peskin resolution.

Under the board rules, and supervisor can demand that a resolution be sent to committee, and with a second by Ahsha Safai, that’s what happened.

Sending the resolution to committee would slow down its adoption, and since the board goes on recess in a couple of weeks, might kill it altogether, since the state Senate could vote to approve the bill before the supes have a chance to weigh in.

But it’s not over: Peskin just reintroduced his resolution, so the board will have to vote on it again next week.

AB 943 is, Peskin told me, “a profoundly undemocratic bill, and I am hopeful that my colleagues will join me in opposing it next week.”

It’s not clear where the mayor is on this. I spoke with him in the hall outside the Board meeting after Question Time, and he said he wasn’t familiar with AB 943.

“I am in favor of removing obstacles to building housing, including affordable housing,” he said. When I told him that the bill would apply to a wide range of development, everywhere in the city, he told me he would have to look into it.

Tenants Together, a state wide renter-advocacy organization, is raising the alarm that the bill could impact rent-control campaigns statewide. AB 943, the group says, “is a stunning attempt by the real estate industry to silence the voices of California voters. If passed, the California Apartment Association (CAA) would use this law to sue cities to stop new rent control laws.”


The bill would raise the threshold for certain local ballot measures relating to real estate development. Under AB 943, a ballot measure that “would reduce density or stop development or construction,” would require a supermajority to pass – 55% of the vote – instead of the usual majority.

If passed, it’s likely the CAA will file lawsuits to argue that rent control should take 55% of the vote to pass at the ballot, pursuing frivolous cases against cities who agree, like us, that rent control does not affect new construction.

We repeat: RENT CONTROL DOES NOT AFFECT NEW CONSTRUCTION OR STOP DEVELOPMENT. Still, the CAA argues all the time that it does, and nothing is in this bill now to stop the CAA from litigating against new rent control laws if this bill becomes law.

I have heard landlord groups argue for 30 years that rent control discourages developers from building housing (despite the fact that under state law, all new housing is exempt from rent control anyway).

But tenants have found that city councils and county boards are subservient to landlords, so many rent-control ordinances have been passed by the voters. And if the landlords have another tool to tie those up in court (and if they wind up getting a friendly set of judges), this could set back rent control in California for years.

It’s astonishing to me that this bill is moving forward with so little news media attention. This could be one of the worst things to happen to the tenant movement in years. And Mayor Ed Lee told me he doesn’t know anything about it, and Malia Cohen and Ahsha Safai are trying to derail efforts to oppose it.


  1. ?? Did I say there is “not enough money in RE”? Don’t know where that comes from.

    As for your rent increase, its 2.2% this year, well below (60%) the rise in consumer prices. So, by that standard, it is not large at all. I’m sorry for you that your income is lagging. I’m on a fixed income. So when my garbage rates go up 16-22% and water rates go up 13% and RE taxes increase 2% every year, and rents have increasesd >2% for six out of the last 25 yrs … I feel it. Differently.

    That said, I was talking about how rent control might possibly disincentivize investors from building. Over the last 30+ yrs we’ve had rent control, the vast majority of units built have been of the ownership variety. One could expect that to go to zero (except subsidized housing) if rent control is expanded vis Vacancy Control. no Costa Hawkins etc. (BTW, most subsidized housing have less “rights” than RC units.)

  2. I want to give homeowners any where the ability to block development that could negatively impact their quality of life. What iy comes to housing for the number of workers SF and about the Same as Cupertino and better than Mt. View.

  3. If the rent control law is changed, it could change the age of the building to have rent control. But the problem is mostly renter protections. Extreme protections were necessary because of rent control. Without rent control there would be less of an incentive to evict.

  4. Tough being a politician these days. You so often have to choose between big money to help your career or appealing to the voters.

  5. If they raise the “constricts new building” argument, they should be forced to explain why new housing wasn’t constructed in Boston and Cambridge after rent control was ended there in 1995. For years afterwards, developers had one explanation after another to explain their failure to build.

  6. If developers won’t build because they are afraid that rent control will be expanded, then it seems to me that the problem here is greed. If the developers who have certain supervisors in their pockets won’t build, then maybe some others will. What is this mentality that a privileged few have an inherent right to make as much profit as possible all at the expense of the most vulnerable?

  7. Have you guys thought this through?

    Do you really want to go on record as supporting the ability of homeowners in Cupertino and Mountain View to block any of that pesky new housing?

    Speaking of pesky, the matter of registering Peskin’s opposition to this measure is moot. The author already admits that it is anti-Nimby

  8. Last night we had the opportunity to ask the Fire Department Chief Assistant which of the many road obstacles is the most difficult for the truck to deal with, and he had to pause and think about it. There are so many concerns it is hard to pick the worst This is how I feel about the slew of anti-voter laws that the state legislature is trying to push through. AB 934 is definitely up there with SB 35 in the list of bad ideas that will take away the power of the people to make decisions about the state government and make California a lot less friendly to live in.

  9. “I have heard landlord groups argue for 30 years that rent control discourages developers from building housing (despite the fact that under state law, all new housing is exempt from rent control anyway).”

    And yet, on these very pages, are calls to remove that same state law.

    Let me put it this way – you park in front of someone’s garage (seek to build new housing); they come out and way a shotgun around (rent control) and say “… if I ever …”. Now you may again park in front of that garage (build new housing). But if you are prudent , you’re thinking, and you’ll probably avoid it, and park where there’s no shotgun-waving (rent control). People cross the street when someone’s standing there waving around a knife; why would investment decisions be any different in the face of dire consequences?

    Actually, its more like 38 yrs that rent control has been around. And during those decades, housing construciton has slowed to a lower rate than the rest of the whole century. Correlation? Coincidence? Anyway, 55% is not such a big hurdle. The statewide prop to eliminate rent control failed by 60%.

  10. Now why would developer funded darlings Malia Cohen and Safai want to derail AB93, the insidious measure that would limit voter initiatives challenging development? P. U. Cohen and Safai stink like developer $$$$$$.

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