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Sacramento passed a rent control law. Activists may still demand a ballot initiative in 2020

A city of Sacramento rent control ballot initiative that was considered dead may be making a comeback.

The initiative, which aims to protect tenants from rent hikes and unjust evictions, last year received more than 44,000 signatures from voters, qualifying it for the city ballot in 2020.

But in August, the Sacramento City Council passed a rent control ordinance, and the three proponents who had submitted the ballot measure agreed not to pursue it, Margarita Maldonado, one of the proponents, said at the time.

Maldonado and another proponent, Omega Brewer, sent a letter Oct. 22 to the city clerk authorizing the measure to be withdrawn from the ballot. But the signature of the third proponent, Michelle Pariset, was not included, and Pariset suggested in a news release Tuesday she plans to move forward with the ballot initiative.

That means the measure could still go to the voters.

City Clerk Mindy Cuppy said in an Aug. 13 email to The Sacramento Bee that all three proponents would need to sign the letter in order to remove it from the ballot. But Tuesday, city spokesman Tim Swanson said the City Attorney’s Office is currently looking into whether all three signatures are needed to remove it.

In the meantime, Mayor Darrell Steinberg is urging Pariset to sign the letter.

“The City Council adopted rent control and just cause eviction protections in good faith after extensive negotiations with the proponents of the rent control ballot initiative,” Steinberg posted on Twitter Tuesday. “We have lived by our word. Others who gave their word should do the same.”

Pariset told the City Council in August she supported the city ordinance.

Pariset could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said in a news release: “Forty-seven thousand Sacramentans said that they want permanent rent control on the ballot and that is what they will get. There is no scenario in which I would undermine the will of the voters by removing the initiative from the ballot.”

A coalition made up of the Alliance of California for Community Empowerment, Democratic Socialists of America, the Sacramento Tenants Union and other groups is pushing for the ballot measure because they say it will go farther to protect renters than the city ordinance.

The activists Tuesday threatened the city with legal action if the council does not vote by Dec. 6 to place the measure on the March 3 ballot, as they say state law requires the city to do.

City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said the activists are misinterpreting state law.

“As the proponents should be aware, the California Elections Code and decades of established case law provide clear authority that the Council may place charter initiatives before the voters at the next regularly scheduled general municipal election, which is in November 2020,” Alcala Wood said in a statement. “Accordingly, the applicable deadlines for the Council to take action to place this initiative on the ballot will fall around summer 2020.”

Tenant advocates are pushing for the ballot measure because they say it protects renters more effectively than the city ordinance, which is now in effect, or the state rent control law, which takes effect Jan. 1. The ballot measure would prohibit landlords from raising rents more than 5 percent annually. That’s compared to 6 percent plus inflation (currently 2.5 percent) allowed in the city ordinance and 5 percent plus inflation in the state law.

Advocates also prefer the ballot measure because they say it has a more effective system for enforcement – an elected rent board like the one used in San Francisco and Berkeley, said Erica Jaramillo of the Sacramento Tenants Union. The city version instead uses independent hearing officers who are city employees.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.
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