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Council Unanimously Backs SMRR's Proposal to Cut Rent Increases

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By Jorge Casuso

August 3, 2022 -- The City Council's "Change" slate joined in a unanimous vote Wednesday night to place a proposed Charter Amendment on the November ballot that would reduce rent increases pushed by Santa Monica's political establishment.

The move comes after Councilmember Lana Negrete and the three "Change" members -- Phil Brock, Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre -- -- had initially backed a rival proposal last Tuesday that would have radically changed how annual rent increases are calculated.

That move failed when Brock dropped his support at the tail end of a marathon meeting last Tuesday ("Last Minute Rent Proposal Triggers Political Firestorm," July 28, 2022).

Under Negrete's proposal, the 13,741 tenants paying rents below the Maximum Allowable Rent (MAR) -- about half the tenants -- would pay nothing, while those paying above the MAR would pay the 6 percent increase, with a $140 cap, approved by the Rent Board in June.

After a vote on her measure was postponed last week, SMRR and its allies mounted a last ditch campaign to "Save Rent Control," contending that Negrete's proposal would "benefit landlords" and "puts renters at risk."

Last weekend, Negrete, after being lobbied by SMRR leaders, announced she would table her proposal ("Negrete Pulls Proposal to Address Rent Increases," August 1, 2022).

Her proposal, Negrete said Wednesday night, "is not to end rent control. It is to make it better. . . It was not intended to scare anyone out of their wits.

"Everyone is fearing losing rent control," she added, "and the fear mongers are going to continue to spread fear."

Negrete said she would back SMRR's proposal to reduce the annual rent increase that kicks in September 1 from the maximum of 6 percent mandated by the current Charter to 3 percent for all rent control tenants, and reduce the cap from $140 to $70.

But after Councilmember Gleam Davis made a motion to place the proposal as a Charter Amendment on the November 8 ballot, de la Torre attempted to revive Negrete's plan to drop any increase for half the tenants.

"We're trying to find a way to provide more rent relief to those who are most rent burdened," de la Torre said. "We need to make it more equitable."

De la Torre's motion -- which reduced Negrete's 6 percent increase to 4 percent for tenants paying above the MAR -- also exempted non-profits that provide deed restricted affordable housing, as well as tenants revceiving rent subsidies.

De la Torre's motion died when it failed to receive a second.

De la Torre then joined his "Change" colleagues in backing Negrete's efforts to add a sunset clause in the proposed Charter Amendment, arguing that it was needed to spur action by staff.

"There's this fear of it being thrown in the trash," Negrete said of proposals to change the Rent Board's 43-year old formula for adjusting rents.

Counciilmember Parra echoed Negrete's concern, saying she is still waiting for information on homeless spending she requested shortly after being sworn in 20 months ago.

The sunset clause, Parra said, "lets people know we're going to do this, we're determined to do this, to make it even better."

De la Torre agreed, saying the strong resistance from Rent Board staff to Negrete's plan raised flags.

"It was very clear that staff have alliances to certain political parties in the City," he said.

But a motion by Brock to include a sunset clause failed when he once again broke ranks with his "Change" slate and withdrew his amendment.

In the end, Brock was given the opportunity to set the directions for staff to ensure a "robust" and "elongated" discussion starting in mid 2023 that should include the Rent Board and all the tenants and stakeholders.

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