Think killing Proposition 10 means killing rent control? Think again, Sacramento

There are still a few more days until the Nov. 6 election, but some landlords and developers are probably already celebrating.

In what has been a political battle for the ages, polls show that Proposition 10 – which would allow cities and counties in California to expand rent control by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act – is likely to fail.

The Public Policy Institute of California poll predicted as far back as September that only 36 percent of likely voters planned to support the statewide ballot measure, with 48 percent planning to vote against it and 16 percent who were undecided.

More recently, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 41 percent of likely voters were willing to back Proposition 10, while 38 percent oppose it – a extremely thin margin, given that more than 1 in 5 Democrats, who tend to support rent control, remained undecided and opponents are drastically outspending supporters.

But that doesn’t mean landlords and developers should be popping champagne bottles just yet. At least not in Sacramento.

Even it fails statewide, there’s still a decent chance that Proposition 10 will win over voters in the capital city, where an influx of priced-out Bay Area residents has been driving up housing costs, pushing some Sacramentans into homelessness or at least to the brink of it.

That means those who have profited most from the city’s affordable housing crisis could soon face a tough choice over how to handle a local rent control measure that has already qualified for the 2020 ballot.

Developers and landlords can decide to work out a legislative compromise with the housing advocates and labor unions pushing the measure, as well as the Sacramento City Council, in exchange for removing it from the ballot. Or they can, as promised, fight its legality.

“If the city fails to act, we will,” Josh Wood of Region Builders, which opposes rent control, told The Bee’s Tony Bizjak. “Either way, the ballot measure is dead on arrival.”

The legal debate hinges on whether the “Sacramento Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Charter Amendment,” as the ballot measure is called, merely amends the city charter, which voters can do, or revises it, which voters cannot do. The city attorney is researching that question.

But if it turns out that these landlords and developers are as wrong as they are righteous, it will only further galvanize public sentiment against them going into 2020, making the local rent control measure all the more likely to pass.

It’s a gamble, for sure, but it’s Proposition 10 that will determine the odds.

The local results from the Nov. 6 election will offer the clearest insight yet of how far Sacramento residents are willing to go to protect tenants in the midst of a dire affordable housing crisis.

This editorial board did endorse Proposition 10, not because we necessarily favor rent control, but because we favor local control. Repealing Costa-Hawkins would merely give city councils and county boards of supervisors the freedom to experiment with solutions, including the option of regulating prices on rental housing or doing nothing at all.

It is far better to implement such policies through the legislative process than at the ballot box through the initiative process.

Landlords and developers are right to be concerned about the local rent control measure. If approved in 2020, it would cap rent increases at 5 percent a year, and would establish an elected rental housing board that would operate independently of city officials and be able to determine the annual rent adjustments.

Policies that draconian could indeed discourage developers from building new apartments and prompt smaller landlords to exit the rental market altogether. This is all the more reason to hammer out a compromise and help tenants before it’s too late for Sacramento.

So far, some members of City Council have floated a plan that would require landlords to offer 18-month leases with set rents and that would create a mediation process for when a landlord tries to increase the rent by 6 percent or more.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has largely given up on his earlier proposal to put a temporary cap on rents after finding little backing for it on the council, is open to this latest plan. But he also is rightly wary of its shortcomings, including the fact that mediation doesn’t carry the force of law.

On Tuesday, the City Council did manage to please developers by pushing through a plan to waive costly city fees, hopefully providing a catalyst to build more affordable housing. That could take years, though, and in the meantime, tenants are still struggling.

Proposition 10 might not be the answer for California. But, for Sacramento, questions about how best to help victims of the housing crisis aren’t going away.