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Prop. 98 Favors Landlords, Wipes Out Renters' Rights

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98 we hate!

99 is fine!

Spread the word!

Vote June third!

I recited this cheesy poem for artist and videographer, T.J. Walkup, hoping its doggerel claws would sink into his brain. I wanted to warn him in an unforgettable way about the savagely deceptive ballot measure Prop. 98. No rock star Obama or Clinton appears on the June 3 ballot. There is strong concern that low voter turnout could result in Prop 98 permanently wiping out rent control across California.

“The California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act” seeks to prohibit governmental use of eminent domain to seize and transfer private homes to a private developer. However, the prop does not stop there.

Trolling the web, T.J. discovered a pro-Prop. 98 site linked to a “low-end” YouTube video. Comedian Drew Carey was paid to tell a “sad story” about a developer scheme using eminent domain to displace “poor Hispanic and Black kids” from a fitness center. The motive for this child abuse? These builders wanted to construct “mixed income housing.” To T.J. it suggested, “they were doing something for the greater good of the community, but taking the community out while they were doing it.”

“I’m not a lawyer,” T.J. told me. “[On the surface,] this looks harmless.

“The most evil thing about [Prop. 98] is that it’s written to deceive people who have reasonable intelligence or better. It presents itself such that a person like myself struggles for the logic [in] what’s going on.”

“[When] you go onto the no98yes99.com Website, they [show] how [Prop. 98] would affect people on or below the poverty line.”

Such people are the million Californians rapidly priced out of suddenly soaring market rate rents by low or fixed incomes—elders, widows, the queer community, people of color, students, people with disabilities, and the working class.

In December 2005, a San Francisco senior residence manager advertised 60 openings in the Chronicle. She was shocked when 700 elderly people showed up and camped on a sidewalk for three days waiting to get on the waiting list. “If these people are in rent-controlled places now struggling to pay rent, what’s going to happen to them? It was heartbreaking.”

As an artist in a San Francisco market, T.J. calls himself a “working stiff.” Loss of rent control could force him out of San Francisco to a lower rent district like dry, dusty Clear Lake, studded with meth labs.

T.J. pointed out that vulnerable people might be low-income workers or retirees renting trailer park land beneath their mobile homes. If rent control were abolished, park owners could inflate rents and force such individuals out. Many would lose both their equity and trailers they could not sell.

In fact, according to a March 19 beyondchron.org article by Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival in Los Angeles and Ted Gullicksen, Director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, Kaplan and Tatum Financial Corporation, a group of wealthy apartment and mobile home park owners, “spent millions” to get Prop. 98 on the ballot. Gross and Gullicksen detail a “troubling picture” of Kaplan and Tatum trailer parks—tenant mistreatment, price-gouging, property neglect, “slum-like conditions,” faulty wiring causing blackouts, and raw sewage backing up into mobile homes.

The impetus for Prop. 98 was the June 23, 2005 Supreme Court ruling Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut (409K PDF), which held that state and local governments could use eminent domain to raze neighborhood homes—not for roads or schools—but for private development projects. Suzette Kelo’s newly remodeled house was taken to build a conference center, a hotel complex, offices and condominiums.

In November 2006, California voters narrowly rejected Proposition 90, which would have restricted “unjust” government use of eminent domain to take homes and private property. Both Prop. 90 and 98 have been described as “bait and switch” schemes. Both have purported to protect people with new restrictions on unfair state and local government eminent domain takings. The language and intent of Prop. 98 represents to some a “sneak attack” far more insidious than that of Proposition 90. Buried in its incomprehensible legalese—deeper than an average voter like T.J. will read—are some very ugly amendments and proposals.

In a March 18 article, Paul Hogarth, managing editor of beyondchron.org, wrote, “To learn about Proposition 98’s agenda, look no further than Dan Faller, President and Founder of the American Owner’s Association (AOA), the largest landlord group in California.” Mr. Faller represents wealthy California landlords, landowners, and developers who would like to reap huge profits from sweeping changes in California law. Prop. 98 seeks to rearrange the deep structure of the California Constitution that will, in effect, deprive taxpayers of many democratic rights.

In addition to abolition of rent control and important renters’ protections, Mr. Faller and his supporters would use passage of Proposition 98 to:

1. Remove protections for the 170,000+ California homeowners caught in the mortgage foreclosure scandal, “including notices, a reinstatement period, and a redemption period,” in which to buy back their homes.

2. Nullify fair housing laws barring discrimination for race, sex, or disability. An owner who wishes to discriminate and rent to a person of their choosing may claim loss of economic benefit and “expense” of renting or selling to a person protected under California fair housing laws.

3. Prohibit many vital environmental protections, including new legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to control pollution and polluting industries.

4. Stop future water infrastructure projects by privatizing potable drinking water supplies and interfering with water quality protections endangering waterfowl, salmon, and delta fish living in rivers, lakes, and streams.

5. Cause a huge proliferation of lawsuits as the courts analyze and interpret the implications, ambiguities, and confusions of vast numbers of legal tangles spawned by Prop. 98’s deceptive, confusing language.

How does Proposition 98 accomplish these objectives?

The initiative amends the Constitution by inserting one sentence at the end of Article I, Section 19: “Private Property may not be taken or damaged for private use.”

The deep text is grammatically messy and studded with an Orwellian Newspeak re-definition section.

The proposition’s core is 19 (b) 3 (iii) (the definition section) with the phrase “Transfer of economic benefit.”

Prop. 98 seeks to prohibit laws and regulations that “transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the property owner.”

19 (b) 3 (iii) governs “[r]egulation of ownership, occupancy, or use of privately owned real property.”

Miguel Wooding, Director of the San Francisco Eviction Defense Collaborative, clarified this wording: “Economics doesn’t happen in a void, but in a particular regulatory environment. Anything the government does affects economics.” Suppose zoning rules say you can’t build a factory or a big box store like Wal-Mart in the middle of this residential district, but, building elsewhere would put you farther from your workforce, raw materials, or other supporting businesses. This stricture transfers an economic benefit from you to the neighborhood homeowners by increasing the value of their houses, forcing you to spend more to build elsewhere. You are a property owner who has lost a benefit. However, if you built your factory or Big Box store in this residential district, the homes would depreciate, transferring the economic benefit from the neighbors to you.

Prop. 98 would invalidate protections regarding terminations of tenancies. The rule that tenants in place for one year must be given 60 days’ notice to vacate transfers an economic benefit from the landlord property owner to the private individual tenant. By prohibiting laws and regulations that “transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the property owner,” Prop. 98 eliminates this tenant protection. If passed, a landlord could write a legitimate contract wherein he or she gives the tenants seven days’ notice to vacate, but requires the tenants to provide two months’ notice when they wants to leave.

In a market like San Francisco where there are few options to move elsewhere, some tenants would be forced to take deals like this just to have housing.

Similar changes could affect damage deposit rules. Prop. 98 could transfer an economic benefit from tenant to landlord by freeing the landlord to offer the tenant a contract requiring $1,000 month rent, plus a $2,000 up-front non-refundable security deposit, or a $1,000 lease sign-on cost.

Prop. 98 undermines basic democracy. Popular will desires fair and equal regulation. Prop 98 prohibits that.

“Interestingly,” said Wooding, “the wording of the proposition is extremely pro-property owner.”

Where there is unequal bargaining power, setting up a just legal system involves creating a regulation that takes into account peoples’ particular circumstances and deals with them fairly.

Said Wooding, “If Prop. 98 passes, it will constitute a huge transfer of economic benefit from one private person to another private person. The problem is that the benefit is removed from the least sophisticated, those who need the protection the most.”

Further, the framers of Prop. 98 have reverted to earlier state and local laws, rearranging them, restricting the creation of many other kinds of laws. Prop. 98 is a radical proposal to eliminate from the California constitution many of the state and local governmental laws developed over decades, some over a century.

“It acts to abolish government regulation to a substantial degree. So,” asked Wooding, “How can you have effective government regulation?”

Said T.J., “None of this paperwork will matter if they do not protect the people’s right to live in a space in California. It won’t be a gross migration. People can’t afford to just move. If 98 passes and they abolish rent control, there will be blood in the streets. This is a catalyst for revolution. If the government does not protect the people, the people will begin to shed the blood of [those] who were given the commission to protect them.”

Not just California’s poor, but, “regular working-class people are getting so disenfranchised already. That’s when they pick up weapons.”

Proposition 99 is the antidote. It is straightforward without convoluted language. It neutralizes Prop. 98 and keeps it from ever coming back.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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