LONG BEACH — A movement to create a rent control law via a ballot measure died a sudden death this week because there is a glut of empty apartments in the city.
The announcement was good news to opponents, who argue that the city's increasing vacancy rate creates its own form of rent stabilization as landlords lower their rents to attract tenants.
Some rent control supporters said they do not accept that argument but, nonetheless, admit they cannot change the perception that a high vacancy rate reduces the need for rent control.
The vacancy rate "changes everything," said Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, which is supporting a rent stabilization ordinance.
Rent control proponents abandoned their plans this week to place the issue on the ballot next year. Instead, the Long Beach Coalition for Rent Stabilization plans to shift its focus and push for rent control via pressure on the City Council.
Opponents were surprised to hear of the group's decision. They have argued that rents here are already lower than in other beach communities and controls would only discourage new construction and deter landlords from fixing up buildings. And now, with the city's increasing vacancy rate, landlords are lowering rents on their own.
"You can go down every street now and see 'For Rent' signs," said John Williams, president of the Apartment Assn., California Southern Cities.
The association's most recent survey puts the city's vacancy rate at 6.5%, Williams said. A year ago, it was about 2%, he said.
"By the time the people would vote on the ballot initiative a year from now, the vacancy rate may approach 10%," said Betsy Stroud-Cunningham, the coalition's chairwoman.
Although supporters say they still believe rent stabilization is needed in Long Beach, they acknowledge that now it will be difficult to get enough support from voters.
Long Beach voters rejected a rent-control proposal in 1979 and supporters failed to get enough registered voters' signatures on an initiative drive in 1981.
"The glut of apartments that presently exists in Long Beach due to the overbuilding by developers changes the objective conditions for rent control," Stroud-Cunningham said.
Because a majority of the nine-member council is opposed to rent control, the coalition plans to work next year for council candidates who favor rent stabilization, Stroud-Cunningham said.
The coalition, which plans to change its name to the Long Beach Housing Action Assn., will work to establish a mandatory renter-landlord arbitration board with power to mediate excessive rent raises, Stroud-Cunningham said. The group also wants to work toward increasing low-rent housing in the city and creating a public corporation to build low-cost housing.
The group also is concerned with mobile home owners, who "need rent control desperately" because mobile home parks are filled, Solomon said. "Their vacancy rate is zero."
The coalition's current rent stabilization proposal would roll back rents to Jan. 1 of this year. The plan would have allowed landlords to raise rents by as much as 75% of the consumer price index, but no more than 7% overall, with exceptions to be approved by a rent stabilization board.