Effort to get rent control back on ballot in Santa Rosa effort falls short

Housing advocates failed to gather enough signatures to put rent control back before Santa Rosa voters this fall.

“We’re sorry to report that our signature drive has come up short,” read a message posted Sunday by the North Bay Organizing Project, which was behind the effort.

When it submitted its petition to the Santa Rosa Clerk in late June, the group appeared to have gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The group needed 10 percent of the city’s 89,849 registered voters, or 8,985 people, to sign a valid petition to qualify. It appeared to submit 11,565 signatures, 22 percent more than needed, according to Santa Rosa City Clerk Daisy Gomez.

But the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters put the raw total at 11,512 and then rejected many of the signatures, determining they were from people who were not registered to vote in Santa Rosa.

“Too many signatures came back as unregistered voters, though we know that people’s intentions were good,” the North Bay Organizing Project wrote in a message on Facebook.

The petition sought to cap rent increases in apartments built before 1995, prohibiting them from rising more than the consumer price index. It also sought to apply just-cause eviction rules to all residential housing in the city. Duplexes owned by landlords who lived in the city would have been exempt.

“We were really focused on corporate landlords who live across the country and the world,” said Davin Cardenas, lead organizer with the group.

While the loss was “tough,” Cardenas said the volunteer effort was “beautiful.”

“We actually gathered a lot of signatures in a very short period of time,” Cardenas said.

County officials said the group submitted 7,895 valid signatures, 1,090 short of the number needed to qualify.

The county rejected 3,617 signatures, or 31 percent of the total. This included 1,220 signatures from people who are not registered voters, as well as 977 people who registered at a different address. Another 810 people signed petitions but lived outside Santa Rosa, while 410 signatures appeared more than once.

Cardenas said he didn’t think the effort suffered from an unusually high percentage of invalid signatures.

“I think this is pretty common,” Cardenas said. “I don’t think this is something that is specific to our team.”

City Councilwoman Julie Combs said there are lots of ways a signature can be invalid, such as people not re-registering to vote after they get married or move.

“It’s a heavy lift,” Combs said. “It can be very difficult for a nonprofit group to meet those petition goals.”

It took the group several weeks to gather the signatures, so it seems unlikely it can regroup in time to collect enough new signatures to meet the Aug. 10 deadline.

State election law allows a group to resubmit a petition, but not to gather supplemental signatures for an existing one. That means the group would have to start from scratch.

Though disappointed, Combs said she plans to continue supporting local, regional and state efforts to produce and protect the city’s affordable housing stock, including the upcoming vote on a $124 million affordable housing bond.

“For me I intend to continue working for our renters,” Combs said, noting that they make up about 40 percent of Santa Rosa residents. “The point was to keep our existing residents here, and I think that’s a goal we can all share.”

The failure of the effort effectively cancels what was shaping up to be a rematch of the costly 2017 showdown between rent control advocates and the California Apartment Association, which pumped a record amount of campaign cash into the election.

The vote overturned the City Council’s 2016 rent control law, which would have capped annual rent increases to 3 percent per year for older apartments. The law never went into effect because 51.2 percent of voters favored overturning it.

Cardenas said his group planned to meet Aug. 6 to discuss options, which he declined to discuss.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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