Despite their apparent death last week, beleaguered efforts to toughen Santa Monica's rent control law stand one last chance of being resurrected for the November ballot.
City Councilman Dennis Zane said he will ask his council colleagues to approve placing on the ballot a modified--and, he hopes, less controversial--measure to amend the rent control sections of the City Charter.
Zane's proposal is a compromise between what the law allows and what tenant activists had tried to put forth in their initiative drive. They had sought to apply rent control to two- and three-unit properties that are now exempt when the owner occupies one of them.
Zane is proposing that those two- and three-unit buildings that are not owner-occupied be required to remain under rent control permanently, even if an owner moves in later.
So rather than eliminate the exemption altogether, Zane's modified measure would bar any future exemptions. Units that already are exempt would stay exempt, he said, but it was unclear if change of ownership would change the exemption status.
Zane, who is running for reelection in November, said the measure stands a better chance of gaining support from opponents to the original initiative, which was sponsored by the liberal Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. Critics, including landlord and homeowner groups, had charged that eliminating a longstanding exemption would be a breach of faith to homeowners.
"The issue of preventing new exemptions didn't seem to provoke as much hostility (from critics of the initiative)," Zane said, "so I'm hoping council members will follow through with that notion and support this less controversial part of the proposal."
It is not clear how the seven-member council will vote on Zane's proposal at Tuesday's meeting.
Council members Christine Reed and William H. Jennings, who are members of the moderate All Santa Monica Coalition, indicated they were not likely to support it, while David Finkel, who like Zane is a member of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, said he will vote in favor of placing the measure on the November ballot.
Councilman Herb Katz, also a coalition member, Mayor James Conn, of the renters association, and Alan Katz, who is not aligned with either group, said they wanted to study the proposal.
"I see no reason the exemption should be changed," Reed said. "Small landlords are still small landlords. I don't see where the city needs to butt in to regulate these units."
The original initiative was dealt a death blow last week when City Atty. Robert M. Myers ruled that petitions circulating on behalf of the measure violated state law.
Myers said the petitions were invalid because the text of the charter was printed on the back and the place for signatures was on the front, although there was a notice of intent on both sides.
After Myers' ruling, sponsors decided that they didn't have enough time to revise the petitions and circulate them before the June 10 deadline for placing an initiative on the November ballot.
The ruling was the latest in a series of mishaps that plagued the initiative drive from the start. At one point, the initiative had to be withdrawn and rewritten because authors had left out an entire paragraph.
The measure also fueled debate among members of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, who disagreed over how far the measure should go.
In addition to instituting rent control for duplexes and triplexes, the initiative would have restricted evictions a landlord can make to allow relatives to move in.
Supporters said the disagreements were only one factor in the initiative's failure. Members of the political group also cited delays in getting started and lack of legal counselors' expertise.
"The real problem was a function of starting too late and not having time to get the necessary technical support staff," Finkel said. "It takes time to get it right and dot the i's and cross the t's."
Several homeowners meanwhile fear the Rent Control Board is trying to achieve administratively what the initiative would have accomplished legislatively. Lawyers for homeowners who sued the board last week were expected to go before a Superior Court judge today to try to obtain a temporary restraining order.
The homeowners want to stop the board from enacting a rule it approved May 26 that would require owners of rent control-exempt property to obtain an additional permit before they can demolish it.