Santa Rosa voters soundly rejected the controversial rent control law passed by the City Council last summer following the most expensive political campaign in city history.
Final returns Tuesday night showed Measure C failing with 52.5 percent of the vote compared to 47.5 percent in support.
The results suggest residents want to see the city take more active steps to solve the affordable housing and homelessness crises instead of placing restrictions on existing rental housing in the city, said Rob Muelrath, the political consultant who ran the No on C campaign.
“It’s a clear signal to the City Council that we need to address our homelessness problem and we need housing and we can’t wait for it. We need it now,” Muelrath said.
But to supporters of Measure C, the takeaway was not that rent control is bad policy for Santa Rosa, but rather that regional and national real estate lobbies with a 5-to-1 financial advantage over local groups were able to buy the election.
“This is out-of-town interests protecting their profits,” said Terry Price, chairman of the Yes on C campaign.
Price called it “a scurrilous lie” to say that the City Council was not taking steps to address the affordable housing crisis in the city, citing the council’s housing action plan and increased spending on housing.
Just last month the council agreed to spend $2.75 million to create additional affordable housing units in pending developments.
Price said the rent control piece of the city’s plan was aimed at keeping people “from being kicked out of their homes and made homeless” while the city worked on its long-term housing strategy.
“The City Council was showing their compassion for our residents, and I think that this City Council is going to continue to do that,” Price said.
Gathered at a bar on Sebastopol Road Tuesday evening, supporters were glum as they watched early returns representing about 24,000 mail-in ballots roll in.
“I don’t think anybody here is happy,” said Dan Mullen, the Novato-based political consultant who worked on the Yes on C campaign.
Price had hoped strong turnout at the polls on Election Day would overcome an initial 8-point deficit, but it didn’t happen. The results narrowed only slightly as the night wore on.
Bill Rousseau, the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, predicted a 40 percent voter turnout for the special election. About 76 percent of the 88,755 voters in the city were expected to vote by mail this year.
The results mean the rent control and just cause for evictions policies suspended by the referendum process are now effectively dead.
The City Council in late August passed a rent control law would have capped rent increases at 3 percent annually for about 11,100 apartments built in Santa Rosa before Feb. 1, 1995. The law also would have required landlords to give a reason for evicting tenants, and in some cases require them to pay relocation expenses.
Those were particularly offensive to many landlords, as they would have required them to pay up to three months of rent plus $1,500 to the people they were displacing without cause. Vice Mayor Jack Tibbett, a tepid supporter of Measure C, had suggested the fees were too steep.