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California suffers under the boot heel of developers, most egregiously in the guise of the “Ellis Act”, which has effectively gutted rent control ordinances and now runs roughshod over communities being poisoned by “gentrification” (Newspeak for “get those damn black people and the homeless out of my sight”).  This is a common plague in red states, but in California, where the legislature is solidly in the hands of Democrats, as is the Statehouse, one would think that lobbyist money wouldn’t carry the same weight as it would in, say, Washington DC.  

Alas, this is not the case.  

The State Assembly, headed by the real-estate-lobby-money-greased Democrat Toni Atkins, who was supposed to shepherd an Ellis Act Reform bill designed to prevent the wholesale evictions of elderly and disabled persons by developers interested only in making a buck, suddenly and inexplicably abandoned the effort—although SB 1439 passed the Senate, it died in the Assembly.  SB 1439 was no radical measure; instead it merely provided some much needed protections for the most vulnerable citizens of the state.  In fact in hearings no one spoke up against the measure, because the only possible argument against SB 1439 was that it would restrict and hamper greed.  Read below from the website of Tenants Together, the organization trying to prevent the entire state from being handed over to real estate developers:  

Yesterday, Democratic Assembly Members Sharon Quirk-Silva (D – Fullerton) and Cheryl Brown (D- San Bernardino) teamed up with Republicans Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego) and Beth Gaines (R – Roseville) to defeat SB 1439 (Leno), a modest bill to stop speculators from misusing California’s Ellis Act to evict long-term tenants.  The bill, co-sponsored by Tenants Together and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee failed on a 3-4 vote, with Assembly Members Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park), Tom Ammiano (D – San Francisco) and Mariko Yamada (D –Davis) voting to support the bill.  The bill would have plugged a loophole that has allowed speculators to purchase apartment buildings and immediately evict long-term San Francisco tenants who are disproportionately elderly and disabled.  With no real arguments against the bill, the real estate lobby relied on a strategy of misrepresentations and campaign donations to prevail.

The defeat of SB 1439 highlights a growing problem in Sacramento.  The real estate industry’s control of Democrats through campaign donations corrupts the lawmaking process, undermining the ability of California’s 15 million tenants to have their needs addressed by legislators.

Tenants saw the same dynamic when Democrats heavily funded by real estate money joined with Republicans to defeat SB 603, our bill last session for fair treatment of security deposits.  That bill would have simply imposed a penalty on landlords who illegally withhold security deposit funds, something that is already the law in Alabama.  The bill was unacceptable to realtor-funded Democrats for reasons they refused to articulate.

With rents, evictions and habitability problems escalating across the state, tenant discontent is on the rise.  We thank all of the tenants and tenant organizations who came to Sacramento, sent letters, signed petitions, made calls and otherwise supported our legislative efforts.  Your presence was felt in the Capitol, and without your support, we would not have made it this far.  We defied the odds and got this bill through the California Senate, but in the end were not able to get it through the Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee.

The Ellis Act reform bill was backed by an incredibly broad coalition of labor unions, senior groups, tech companies, and social justice groups.  San Francisco political leaders --Mayor Ed Lee (SB 1439 co-sponsor), Senator Mark Leno (SB 1439 author), Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, Assembly Member Phil Ting and the entire San Francisco Board of Supervisors – were united for Ellis Act reform.  We appreciate the solidarity and the hard work of all of our allies in this fight.

We are deeply disappointed that Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D – San Diego) did not take steps to secure passage of SB 1439. Tenant advocates were excited to welcome Speaker Atkins – a proven leader on affordable housing construction -- when she recently took over leadership of the Assembly.  As Speaker, she has considerable power to control whether bills live or die.  Her inaction on this bill stands in sharp contrast to the Senate in which President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D – Sacramento) and incoming Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D – Los Angeles) fought for passage of the bill, leadership that proved essential in a difficult floor fight.  We urge our members to call Speaker Atkins at (916) 319-2078 and urge her to take a more proactive role in passing commonsense tenant protections like SB 1439.

California’s 15 million tenants need representation and leadership in Sacramento.  Too often, lawmakers claim to be affordable housing champions while refusing to stop unfair displacement, exorbitant rent hikes, security deposit theft, and other abuses of current tenants.  This was the case in the Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee where Assembly Members went out of their way to profess their support for affordable housing, while voting to displace tenants from affordable housing.

98-year old Mary Elizabeth Phillips testified at the hearing yesterday.  How could any lawmaker who claims to care about the vulnerable look this long-term, elderly tenant in the eye, and vote to empower the speculators who are evicting her?

This marks the beginning, not the end, of our fight to change the dynamic in Sacramento and stop unfair displacement of California tenants.  We urge tenants who would like to get involved in our struggle for fairness and justice to visit our website and become a member today.

To read more on the savaging currently going on in San Francisco by the hordes of techies who work at firms like Google and Facebook driving rents and property values in Baghdad by the Bay sky high, read “California Screaming” by Nathan Heller in this week’s New Yorker.

Originally posted to Pragmatus on Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 09:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by California politics.

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