Alameda Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft,
Frank Matarrese and Mayor Trish Spencer during
a hearing Tuesday on various rent measures.

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer said Tuesday that she unequivocally opposes the tenant-driven rent control initiative now slated for the November ballot. The stance is not surprising. She has told the renters’ group the same thing in private, but Tuesday’s declaration may be the start of Alameda leaders taking stands on this most contentious issue.

While the Alameda City Council discussed various scenarios this week that include up to four different potential rent-related measures in the fall, Spencer, a long-time renter herself, said she does not support the renters’ cause, but did not voice an opinion on the landlords’ competing initiative to ban rent control. That measure is still awaiting certification from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. Spencer, though, was the only member of the council to support placing the rent stabilization ordinance it passed last March on the ballot. Its inclusion in a staff report, though, caused some displeasure among the council and tenant advocates.

“I would have preferred it not be in the staff report,” said Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft. “I was upset because it contradicts [the rent ordinance’s] flexibility.” In the unlikely event the ordinance is placed on the ballot and actually wins, its ability to be tweaked would be severely diminished. Because it would be a charter amendment, making changes to it would be onerous and only through the ballot box in future elections. Ashcraft noted the originally underpinning of the ordinance is to monitor its early progress on a yearly basis and allow for changes, if warranted.

Members of the Alameda Renters’ Coalition claim the introduction of the ordinance as a ballot measure is intended to confuse voters. Some residents, they say, already erroneously believe the ordinance passed in March enacted rent control restrictions.

With the stakes of Alameda’s rent control issue high, there is an expectation of some political posturing and low-level chicanery over the next four months before Election Day. On Tuesday, Councilmember Tony Daysog offered to sit on a two-person committee tasked with writing a ballot statement opposing the renters’ initiative. Daysog has his own petition for an amendment to the rent ordinance that would roll back some tenant-related costs to whom he terms “small mom-and-pop landlords.” Daysog’s measure, however, is unlikely to amass the 6,461 signatures needed for inclusion this fall. Ashcraft, who is running for re-election against Daysog for two open seats on the council, immediately protested against what she believes is a conflict-of-interest.

An impromptu preview of the November council ensued with Daysog using the rent control issue to put Ashcraft on the spot. “It’s the responsibility of every councilmember to show where we stand on rent control,” Daysog urged. The statement hung in the air for a few minutes before Ashcraft said, “I very much respect the public process.”

Later, after Daysog claimed “early returns” of the recently-passed rent stabilization ordinance is stopping incidents of excessive rent increases of up to 50 percent, Ashcraft scoffed. “I would love to believe that,” she said. Instead, the absence of such recurrences, may be due to tenants being too scared to confront their landlords.

With a line in the sand potentially drawn with the rent control initiative qualifying for the ballot Wednesday, it appears Spencer and Daysog land closer to landlords than generally beleieved, while Ashcraft and Councilmember Jim Oddie lie somewhere closer to renters. Councilmember Frank Mataresse, while not particularly admired by the renters’ coalition, suggested Tuesday night that he plans to be neutral on this issue. He made it clear that he strongly opposes the council taking any stand on the measures through a ballot statement.

NOTE: A change was made to this article regarding Daysog’s possible involvement in writing a ballot statement.