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Only 1 Can Lose in 4-Way Rent Board Race

October 26, 1986|JAY GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

There can only be one loser in the at-large race for three seats on the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. That is because there are only four candidates.

Three candidates affiliated with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights are competing with independent Thomas Allison for the right to sit on the five-member board.

The Rent Control Board regulates the city's tough rent control law, hears appeals of decisions made by rent board hearing examiners and must approve the board's budget as well as any exemptions to the law.

Members serve four-year terms and earn $75 a meeting. The board meets two or three times a month.

Candidate Allison, a 25-year-old graphic artist and Santa Monica tenant, has presented himself as an alternative to the renters' rights faction, which holds all seats on the board. He is the only candidate who favors vacancy decontrol.

Under the version of decontrol he supports, landlords could seek a rent increase when an apartment becomes vacant but any increases would be subject to rent board approval on a case-by-case basis.

"This will open up the market in Santa Monica," Allison said. "Renters coming into Santa Monica, who could afford to live here, could find a place to live."

Vacancy decontrol also would allow landlords to invest more money in the upkeep of their buildings, he said.

Allison estimates that he will spend about $500 on his campaign.

The three Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights candidates, two of whom are incumbents, said they are against vacancy decontrol. They also said they did not know how much the renters' rights faction has spent on their campaigns. They said their only significant campaign expense was having their names included on mailers promoting the tenant faction's City Council candidates.

Incumbent Eileen Lipson, a 53-year-old attorney who said she is a landlord and a tenant advocate, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the rent board in February, 1984.

She said she wants to retain her seat so she can work on two major issues that will be discussed by the rent board next year: historically low rents and inclusionary housing.

Reports on both issues are being prepared for the rent board and will be completed next year. The study on historically low rents looks at the predicament of landlords who were charging low rents when the rent control law was passed in 1979 and have not been allowed to raise their rents to cover their expenses.

The inclusionary housing report studies ways in which the rent law could be changed to tie the amount of rent a landlord charges to the income level of a tenant. In theory, two tenants with identical apartments could be charged different rents, according to their income.

Candidate Susan Packer Davis, a 34-year-old tenant, lawyer and school administrator, served on the board from 1981 to 1984, when she resigned to have a baby.

"The thing I want to concentrate on," she said, " is . . . to be more aggressive and go out into the field more and follow up on more of our decisions to make sure people are keeping their promises.

"I want to commission a study on the condition of our housing stock to find out what is really going on in regard to building maintenance."

Incumbent Wayne Bauer is a 38-year-old law student and tenant advocate affiliated with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights who has served on the board since 1983.

"I believe the next four years will dramatically change rent control," he said. "Inclusionary housing will really alter rent control as we know it."

Bauer said inclusionary housing should use limited vacancy decontrol as an incentive to get landlords to commit themselves to rent some apartments to low-income tenants at a low price.

"But this would require a monitoring and investigatory program on the part of the board," he said. "And I want to make sure these safeguards are written into the regulations so the program is not abused by landlords."

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