The day after the defeat of Santa Rosa’s controversial rent control measure, City Council members took stock and expressed hope the city would find other ways to solve its housing crunch.
Mayor Chris Coursey said the council majority that narrowly passed rent control and just-cause for eviction rules in August was trying to help people caught in a historic housing crunch, and was disappointed that effort has been blocked.
“This was not a philosophical debate for 11,000 renters in Santa Rosa. This was real-life stuff, and they are struggling,” Coursey said Wednesday morning. “And what worries me today is that we have let them down.”
Final returns Tuesday night showed 52.5 percent of the vote against Measure C compared to 47.5 percent in support.
There are another 3,200 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots to count, but given the vote percentages, those are not expected to change the results, given that the “no” votes enjoy a 1,409-vote lead.
The Sonoma County Registrar of Voters is expected to deliver final results later this month.
Now that the referendum has effectively forced repeal of the ordinance, the city is precluded by state election code from passing the same ordinance for a year after the June 6 election, according to City Clerk Daisy Gomez.
The city was prepared to respond however the vote went, said Dave Gouin, director of the city’s Housing and Community Services department.
If Measure C had passed, a web page and hotline were ready to go live explaining the implications and requirements for renters and landlords.
Rent restrictions would have gone into effect immediately, with rents returning to no more than January 2016 levels. Rent adjustments of 3 percent could occur annually thereafter, Gouin said.
But administration of the program, including fielding complaints from renters and requests for higher rent increases from landlords making capital improvements, was unlikely to go into effect until September, he said.
Now that Measure C has failed, Gouin said city staff await direction from the council about future priorities.
The city spent more than $200,000 researching, crafting and passing the ordinance.
That includes $130,000 in staff and consultants’ time this year, up to $25,000 contracting with an outside attorney to help the council craft the ordinance and about $21,000 in legal expenses addressing referendum related issues, according to Gouin and CFO Debbi Lauchner.
That doesn’t include costs from the previous fiscal year, which involved substantial council analysis, nor the estimated $500,000 special election cost.
It’s not clear whether the city could — or would even try to — pass a revised rent control ordinance anytime soon.
Coursey said he wasn’t interested in second-guessing whether the ordinance could have passed in a different form or whether the Yes on C campaign could have done anything differently.
In his mind, the loss was directly related to the money spent by the real estate interests that raised more than $830,000 to block Measure C. By his count, they spent $57 per vote received. (By the time all votes are counted, the figure will likely be closer to $50 per vote.)
“I thought that Measure C in normal circumstances would be an easy win in Santa Rosa, but this was not normal circumstance,” Coursey said. “That’s what $800,000 will do. It will skew things.”