[ Students United with Renters carry a “Yes on M” banner at the intersection of Mission and Bay in Santa Cruz as part of the Rally Against Big Money and Predatory Landlords. October 11, 2018. ]
Dozens rallied in Santa Cruz on Thursday, October 11 to draw support for Measure M, a local rent control initiative. The measure will expand tenant protections and limit rent increases where possible. Proponents say Measure M would help community members who are struggling financially, including families, students, and seniors, afford to stay in Santa Cruz.
Community members, brought together by Students United with Renters, began gathering at Trescony Park at 4:30 p.m. According to their website, “SUR is a collaborative group of student and non-student renters and community members of Santa Cruz organizing for housing justice for all and the stability of our community. We are working to address out-of-control rents and a lack of protection for tenants and houseless people from abuses, intimidation, and eviction.”
Opponents of Measure M are using their money to spread fear and misinformation about rent control. Although most of the money is coming from out of the area, including real estate interests like the California Apartment Association and the National Association of Realtors, local landlords are also part of the problem.
In an announcement for the event, “Rally Against Big Money and Predatory Landlords,” SUR stated that the demonstration aimed to, “highlight Harry Dong, the owner of the building at 1612 Mission Street, who is a landlord and opponent of Measure M. He preys on desperate tenants to draw the highest possible rents he can.”
After a brief gathering with speeches in Trescony Park, the crowd marched down Trescony Street and along the sidewalk of Mission Street, which is also Highway 1. People chanted loudly in a unified voice, “Corporations Must Fall! Santa Cruz for All!” as well as “Yes on M! Yes on 10!” Prop 10, a statewide initiative, will allow communities to limit excessive rents to address California’s housing-affordability and homelessness crises.
After learning of the planned demonstration, Dong removed a large “No on M” sign from the highly visible building which he owns at 1612 Mission Street. For almost fifty years the iconic building built in the 1960’s served as Larry’s Photography and featured a larger-than-lifesize camera on a tripod to draw the eye of people heading north. Dong’s “No on M” sign had been perfectly situated on the tripod in place of the camera.
Rent Gouging in Santa Cruz
During the rally, motorists honked their horns in support of rent control and in solidarity with the demonstrators. Some people shouted out their car windows about the exploitively high rents they face each month.
An organizer of the demonstration spoke through a bullhorn about the hardships he faced as a UC Santa Cruz student searching for housing. The student explained that in 2017, Dong instructed tenants applying to live in his rentals to bid above his original asking price.
Dong sent him and other housing applicants an email which stated: “Many more qualified applicants have applied to rent these houses than usual — […] If you and your group are willing to pay more, then please email me the amount of the proposed monthly rent you are willing to pay, along with the address of the house or houses you would like to rent.”
According to Students United with Renters, the implications of rent gouging are stark: “Because tenants are struggling to find basic shelter, Dong knows he can price gouge and most of us will just have to take it. Tenants with more money will win out and have shelter, the rest of us will live in cars or the woods.”
Measure M: Rent Control in Santa Cruz
If adopted by the voters in November 2018, Measure M would apply to rentals in the City of Santa Cruz. The measure is divided into three main sections: rent control, just cause eviction, and a rent board.
Unsurprisingly, opponents of Measure M have responded by condescendingly claiming they support low-income renters, however “Measure M would hurt those it is trying to help.” In an opinion letter published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on September 24, 2018, Santa Cruz High School Social Studies teacher Michael Polhamus posits, “If you’re having trouble finding off-campus housing, the people you can blame are the same people promoting rent control and just-cause eviction in your name.” Polhamus continues, “These are big words that the people speaking them don’t really understand.”
The No on M campaign insists that they are good landlords who charge fair rents. Their campaign, however, is fortified by a tremendous amount of money from out of town real estate interests. No on M has raised over $750,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to fight rent control in Santa Cruz, including:
- $10,350 from 1010 Pacific Investors in Belmont, CA
- $20,800 from Selby Development Group in Menlo Park, CA
- $48,000 from Contra Costa Re Investors in Danville, CA
- $175,000 from the California Association of Realtors in Los Angeles, CA
- $200,000 from the National Association of Realtors in Chicago, IL
While opponents of rent control receive huge sums of money from large corporate interests, Yes on Measure M explains, “The Santa Cruz Rent Control and Tenant Protection Act was crafted by a group of local tenants, homeowners, and their allies, working together with an experienced team of lawyers with expertise in rent control laws, in order to address the unique circumstances involved in the Santa Cruz rental crisis.”
There is rich irony in seeing signs posted in front of multi million dollar homes which declare, “Too Expensive. Too Extreme. No on Measure M.” In some cases, No on M signs are juxtaposed with signs printed in Spanish, English, and Arabic colorfully declaring, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”
On September 28, 2018, radical folk musician David Rovics authored a new song called “If You’re Going to Santa Cruz” about his experience the previous day. To introduce the song, Rovics explains, “Last night I was kicked out of a building for the first time in my 51 years. It happened in Santa Cruz, California.”
Rovics keenly observed the meaning of the signs around town and sings:
If you’re going to Santa Cruz, you’d best have lots of green
And I’m not talking about cannabis, you know what I mean
I’m talking about money – the city reeks of dollar bills
You can see it on the lawn signs beneath the window sills
Vote no on Measure M, all the developers say
Because a rent control board would just get in the way
Of profits – because that’s all there is to lose
If the rich don’t get their way in the town of Santa Cruz