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Group calling for rent control temporarily halts signature-collecting for ballot measure

#RentControlNow Coalition cites ‘absurd opposition’ in its attempts to gather enough signatures

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The #RentControlNow Coalition, a subsidiary of the affordable-housing advocate Housing Long Beach, announced Tuesday that it has temporarily halted its signature-gathering campaign for getting a measure on the ballot, citing “insurmountable obstacles,” including having to collect a great number of signatures while facing “some absurd opposition.” Pictured is the coalition’s logo.

A local coalition calling for rent control and “just cause eviction” stipulations in Long Beach has temporarily halted its signature-gathering campaign for getting a measure on the ballot, citing “some insurmountable obstacles,” including having to collect a high number of signatures while facing “some absurd opposition.”

In a statement posted on its Facebook page Tuesday night, the #RentControlNow Coalition made the announcement and indicated that some of its volunteer signature-collectors have been harassed to the point of having police called on them.

“For now, we change gears, as it has widely been reported that rent control will not appear on the ballot in Long Beach this November,” the statement reads. “This does not mean we are ending our fight for rent control and eviction protections or the fight against displacement. Rents have been dramatically rising for several years now, and the real-estate industry expects that to continue here in Long Beach.”

The statement continues by criticizing city officials for not protecting renters.

“We’ve learned a tremendous amount in this process,” the statement continues. “We’ve learned the ugly face of our opposition. We’ve also seen City Hall align against renters. We’ve also learned some key and valuable lessons in this process as well as the amount of resources that will be needed to push Long Beach over the top. We took on the rent-control fight because of the disturbing levels of displacement amid dramatically rising rents, the continued calls for action from our supporters and residents, and a concerted lack of action by City Hall.”

The coalition, which is a subsidiary of the affordable-housing advocate Housing Long Beach and is backed by the senior-protection group the Long Beach Gray Panthers, alleges it has introduced a policy that is widely used in other large renter-majority cities, similar to Long Beach.

“The fight is not over,” the coalition’s statement reads. “The strategies and tactics will change. But, we will still be fighting for #RentControlNow. The #RentControlNow Coalition will still be meeting and developing plans for the 2020 ballot. The coalition is in a much stronger position to do so than we were at the start of this effort. We have learned a lot and have seen some of the best of Long Beach rise up for renter power.”

The coalition additionally stated it will also continue to fight for full sanctuary status and immigration reform.
“We want to thank the countless volunteers, who took petitions and hit the streets as far back as February, for your time, effort and energy,” stated the coalition. “The work that Housing Long Beach staff placed in this cannot be highlighted enough. Again, this is not retreat, nor is it surrender. But, for now, we lick our wounds and regroup.”

In an email to the Signal Tribune Wednesday, Karen Reside, secretary for Long Beach Gray Panthers, responded to a request to elaborate on the harassment mentioned in the coalition’s statement.

She said there was a concentrated effort to disrupt signature collection at public sites.

“The first day I went out to collect signatures, I was harassed by a landlord from Belmont Shore, who would jump in whenever I tried to talk to someone and start yelling at them, saying we were lying– not true– and were going to destroy the city,” Reside said. “I also told a paid flyer distributor they could not flyer cars, as it was littering, and told her I would call the police to report it– you need a police report to support a formal complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission. I was confronted by an angry Joanie Weir as I tried to collect signatures threatening me. Many signature collectors were harassed by being made to move from public sidewalks or public areas or told to leave from where they were collecting signatures.”

She added that Better Housing Long Beach hired students at Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College to interfere with signature collecting on campus and paid them stipends to disrupt signature gathering “by whatever means possible.”

“The students stopped when it was explained to them what they were disrupting,” Reside said. “I spoke about my experiences at a city council meeting, and the city clerk told us we needed to call the police if we were harassed. One signature collector was [run] into by an opposition member with a shopping cart, and when he called the police, they handcuffed him because the opposition member was a female and claimed he had assaulted her.”

Reside said this experience was her first time working on a campaign at such a level and that she found it appalling how little the opposition knew about rent control.

“They had lots of money, and we had what we donated out of our own pockets,” she said. “Our signature collectors were all volunteers, except for those coordinating the campaign, who were funded by a grant. This issue isn’t over. Older adults are being evicted from apartments they have lived in for 20 or more years with many of them ending [up] on the streets. The rent control actually protected small landlords. Our concerns were for corporate landlords who are buying up property, evicting tenants who paid their rent on time, performing small improvements like painting the building, then doubling rent and not allowing evicted tenants to return. Gentrification is a planned process that doesn’t have to be done this way.”

She said many of the evicted tenants were teachers or social workers who didn’t have strong pensions or who had interrupted their careers to raise families.

“What is being done to people who helped build our community is criminal,” Reside said.

Although Reside and #RentControlNow Coalition members say their fight will continue, a group called Long Beach Residents for Fair Housing (LBRFH), whose mission is to stop “all efforts to implement the destructive, anti-affordable-housing scheme known as ‘rent control’ in Long Beach,” is characterizing the coalition’s announcement this week as an admission of defeat.

LBRFH also took to Facebook Tuesday evening to blast the coalition’s inability to gather enough signatures for a measure.

“Housing Long Beach has until July 30 to submit the required number of valid signatures to the city clerk. They admitted [Tuesday] they have given up on that effort,” wrote LBRFH spokesman Mike Murchison. “Once that deadline passes, they will have to start from scratch if they want to attempt to qualify rent control for a future election.”
Murchison went on to criticize the idea of rent control as a faulty notion that engenders the opposite of its intended effect.

“Rent control sounds like an easy fix to rising housing costs, but this policy would have led to fewer rental units in Long Beach, deteriorating neighborhoods and less money for essential city services,” Murchison wrote. “Renters would have actually seen higher costs thanks to the market-distorting effects of rent control. Rent control attempts to treat the symptoms of a housing shortage rather than the underlying cause– and, in this case, the treatment would have made the problem worse.”

Murchison then thanked by name several organizations that “worked hard to support the Long Beach community,” including the Long Police Officers Association, Long Beach Firefighters Association, Small Property Owners Alliance-SoCal, California Apartment Association, Apartment Association-California Southern Cities and Pacific West Realtors.

“The more voters learned about rent control, the less they liked it, but we recognize that the people who backed this policy also want to make Long Beach a better, stronger city even if we disagree on the best way to do it,” Murchison continued. “We will continue working until July 30 to officially defeat rent control, but [Tuesday’s] announcement by Housing Long Beach is a victory for renters, property owners and taxpayers across the city. From there, we will continue to work with our elected officials and other community leaders to develop solutions to our housing challenges. Long Beach has made tremendous progress because residents and city leaders are passionate about making our city a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

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Group calling for rent control temporarily halts signature-collecting for ballot measure