Assemblymember Rob Bonta

Assemblymember Rob Bonta wants the Alameda City Council to investigate and potentially disqualify a pending ballot referendum brought forth last month by local landlords after a raft of complaints that signature-gatherers intentionally misled residents.

The landlords’ petition seeks to overturn Alameda City Council’s decision last month to add a just cause amendment to the its rent stabilization ordinance.

The letter sent from Bonta to the Alameda City Council, dated July 5, is written on Assembly letterhead and quite notable for its forceful language. Most state legislators shy away from inserting themselves in local issues. Bonta, though, is an Alameda resident and former councilmember.

But the appearance of at least 51 affidavits from Alameda residents alleging out-of-town signature-gatherers working for a company hired by a Alameda landlords’ group intentional misled voters caught Bonta’s attention.

“The evidence of fraud contained in this documentation is extremely concerning and I encourage the city to assemble this evidence, and solicit additional evidence from residents who may also have been asked to sign these petitions based on false or misleading statements, and submit this evidence to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office for possible prosecution,” Bonta wrote.

“I encourage the Alameda City Council to take the necessary legal steps to protect the integrity of the election process and send a strong message that our city will not tolerate illegal signature gathering.”

Earlier this week, the city of Alameda said the signed affidavits, along with an additional 120 residents who petitioned to have their signatures withdrawn from the landlords’ petition led to consultation with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office for possible criminal charges against the signature-gatherers.

The issue of paid signature-gatherers has provided consternation around the state and, on the issue of rent control, angered tenant activists in Richmond and Santa Rosa recently. “While these per-signature payments may create incentives for circulators to collect more signatures, they also may create financial incentives to commit fraud, since circulators are only paid for the signatures they collect,” wrote Bonta.

In Alameda, there have been some reports of signature-gatherers being paid up to $7 per signatures. The group collected more than 7,300 signatures earlier this month for authentication by the city clerk’s office. Just 4,808 valid signatures are required. In total, the signature-gathering effort would have cost the landlords’ group around $50,000.