At the December 6 city council meeting, District 3 Councilman Jose F. Moreno tasked city staff with a research project: survey rents in Anaheim and schedule a council workshop on the results of that study, along with what other cities have done in terms of rent “stabilization” – which is a euphemism for rent control.
What this looks like is Moreno using city staff to tee up a political issue he and his political allies can use in the 2020 council elections, possibly in the form of a ballot initiative.
It’s a classic page out of the progressive playbook: generate a study that you can claim as an empirical basis for your political agenda. The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions (CRLU) did that last year when it commissioned a report on Resort wages by an economist and a political science professor who specialize in producing studies to justify labor’s political aims. That study was then lapped up by the media and cited by the CRLU as “evidence” of the necessity of their “living wage” initiative – Measure L.
Affordable housing is an issue, and rising rents present a real problem for lower-income people. Building housing is an expensive and time-consuming enterprise in California – not least thanks to burdensome laws and regulations enacted under by the progressive Democrats who have been running the state for the last quarter century.
The real solution is repealing and reducing regulatory barriers to home building, but even that won’t immediately reverse the effects of decades of over-regulation of the housing market. Moreno and other progressive activists don’t want to wait, and believe the solution is even greater government control of the housing market via rent control.
Moreno’s re-election campaign manager, Joese Hernandez, co-wrote a pro-rent control op-ed in the Voice of OC earlier this year:
“Tenant protection policies, such as rent stabilization (also referred to as rent control), are a crucial step in solving our housing crisis.” writes Hernandez, who was then a long-time community organizer for left-wing pressure group OCCORD.
Hernandez writes that rent control “allows for incremental rent increases that are more just and fair to residents, while ensuring landlords a fair rate of return on their investment.”
The crucial question is who decided what is fair and just. Rent control takes that question out of the hands of the market and by placing it under the purview of government makes is a political matter subject to the lobbying of pressure groups. It then becomes an organizing tool that progressive political groups like OCCORD use to organize voters and build their political influence.
Given their stunted economic literacy and proclivity for demonizing “profit,” one shouldn’t expect Moreno, Hernandez and their allied progressive to be fair and just to property owners when deciding what fair and just rent is.
When directing staff to undertake the rent study, Moreno opined: “How do we stabilize our rents so that people don’t keep getting pushed out of their apartments but also respect the property owners themselves.”
Moreno’s implicit premise is the dubious assumption that rent control can be imposed while “respecting” the rights of property owner. Regardless of how “fair” rent control advocates think they are being to property owners, it comes down to government dictating rents.
This November, California voters rejected an initiative this November that would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins Act, which prohibits local governments from imposing rent control on properties built after 1995, and places limits on the controls that can be placed on rental units built pre-1995.
However, a significant percentage of Anaheim’s apartment stock was built before 1995, and therefore vulnerable to municipal rent control laws. It’s hard to escape the conclusion Moreno is using city resources to create a study he and his allies can then cite as a neutral source when pushing a rent control ordinance or initiative.
District 1, 4 and 5 will be on the ballot in November 2020, and control of the council once again on the line. District 4 will be open, while Republican Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Steve Faessel will be seeking re-election in Districts 1 and 5, respectively. With its “living wage” initiative, UNITE-HERE showed that is can quickly gather signatures to qualify a ballot initiative. Democratic voter turnout will be higher in a presidential election year – especially as the political Left perfects the tools such as ballot harvesting to turn out the low-information (i.e. Democratic) voters more inclined to support progressive policies like rent control. “Non-profits” like OCCORD, with its $1.5 million annual budget, would register and turn out voters, working in conjunction with the Moreno political operation embedded in Anaheim’s school districts. Control of the Democratic Party of Orange County will be in the hands no allies like UNITE-HERE chief Ada Briceno and the pugnacious Jeff LeTourneau. A pro-rent control initiative would work hand-in-glove with a Moreno-endorsed council candidate slate – which could exploit the initiative to side-step campaign fundraising limits a la Larry Agran in Irvine.
The point is Moreno’s request is more than a policy exercise in examining Anaheim rents and affordable housing policies. He has a council aid budget to do such research. More likely, this is the opening move in a play to qualify a rent control initiative for the November 2020 ballot.