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By Jorge Casuso
March 15, 2019 -- A series of housing bills introduced in the State Assembly Thursday will likely have little impact on Santa Monica's skyrocketing rental market, although one of them could pave the way for a local voter initiative.
Of the four bills, the one introduced by Santa Monica Assemblymember Richard Bloom could go before local voters if it is signed into law by the Governor, as expected.
Unlike Bloom's 2018 housing bill to repeal vacancy decontrol -- which like a similar state voter initiative failed -- the new bill would make "modest reforms" to the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, his office said.
The bill would allow cities to apply rent stabilization measures to rental units that are more than 10 years old, which would include units built in Santa Monica between 1979, when Rent Control went into effect, and 2009.
The bill also allows cities to stabilize rents in single family rentals and condominiums "with an exemption for small landlords who own two or fewer rental units," according to Bloom's office.
“Recent efforts to address one of the state’s most glaring problems have failed, but the problem has not gone away,” Bloom said.
“Skyrocketing rents threaten many people, particularly seniors, the disabled, and young families with children. The time to come together around a solution is now.”
The other bills introduced Thursday would not apply to Santa Monica.
AB 1482 authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) -- which would institute a "statewide anti-rent gouging law" -- would not supersede local rent control laws such as Santa Monica's.
Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) AB 1481, which would prevent "discriminatory, arbitrary, and retaliatory evictions," also woould not apply, since Santa Monica has an existing “just cause” ordinance that requires landlords to show the legal reason a tenant is evicted.
While the Santa Monica Rent Control Board already maintains a rental registry like the one mandated statewide by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) under AB 742.
Bloom's AB 36 would have an impact on Santa Monica, but it woun't be a major one, said former mayor Dennis Zane, co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.
"It would only allow the rent to be controlled while the unit is occupied," he said, adding that landlords would be allowed to raise the already sky high rates once the unit is voluntarily vacated.
"It makes a bigger difference in other cities," Zane said.
The provision allowing Santa Monica to bring single-family homes under rent control also won't apply, he said.
The City, Zane said, has "since determined that single-family homes are permanently exempt. They would see no change in status."
SMRR Co-chair Patricia Hoffman thinks the bill sends the right message during a statewide housing crisis.
"The State allowing (rent stabilization) to happen, instead of prohibiting it, is a big change," Hoffman said.
To implement Bloom's bill Santa Monica -- along with West Hollywood and Berkeley -- would need to seek voter approval, since it was voters who passed the City's rent-control law, Zane said.
Local landlords worry that Thursday's bills will further stifle the free market, discouraging housing development.
"Renter advocates cling to the Utopian fantasy that controlling rents will create more opportunities for low-to-moderate income tenants," said Wes Wellman, a local Realtor and leader of ACTION Apartment Association.
"These types of measures were tried in Santa Monica from 1979 to 1999 and resulted in many units being held off or removed from the market. Those that were rented generally went to fewer numbers of high income professionals.
"Many of today's legislators are too young to remember that their proposed schemes were already tried and failed here," Wellman said.
"Santa Monica was a laboratory experiment that blew up."
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