Hundreds of San Francisco and Bay Area residents trekked to Sacramento Thursday morning, waiting in lines that stretched out of the State Capitol building, to tell the California State Assembly whether they oppose or support AB 1506, a bill that would give cities the opportunity to create new rent-controlled housing.
The bill ultimately failed to pass the Housing and Community Development Committee, falling one vote short of the necessary threshold to move forward. However, backers of the bill, which would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act, promised to revive it.
Tenants groups like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and the SF Tenants Union boarded buses before sunrise at Civic Center in order to make it to Sacramento for the 9 a.m. hearing. While lawmakers calmly listened inside, shouting matches broke out in the hallway outside as hundreds of Californians, both pro and con, waited their turn to speak.
Chris Durazo, co-director of housing at the Oakland group Causa Justa, told Curbed SF she made the trip to Sacramento out of concerns about gentrification.
“We’re seeing epic evictions and devastating rent increases,” says Durazo. “Repeal [of the 1995 Costa-Hawkins act that limits rent control to older housing stock] allows cities to address the problem.”
“It’s not just working people who should have to make sacrifices during a crisis,” he said.
And Karen, an Oakland acupuncturist, said she had her own living situation on her mind, paying $2,000 per month for a 400-square-foot rent-controlled apartment she can’t move out of fear of getting squeezed harder elsewhere.
“We’re terrified to move,” she told Curbed SF.
Hundreds of people also came to oppose expanding rent control, expressing fears about onerous regulation and the danger of stifling housing development.
“If rent control goes through, it would be devastating,” Brook Turner, executive director of the group Coalition for Better Housing, told Curbed SF. “I’m hopeful people will listen to reason.”
Many lawmakers were not persuaded rent control is the answer either.
“Cities that have tried rent control, like San Francisco and LA, have these cities solved the problem [of spiraling rents]?” Orange County representative Steven Choi (R) asked during the floor debate.
“The problem is supply and demand,” Choi added. “Have you thought about removing CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] instead?”
Concerned the bill would do nothing to address the cost of housing, Sonoma County representative Jim Wood (D) said, “I’m sympathetic to rising rents, but I can’t support the bill.”
Repeal backers argued the bill is a necessary tool for providing renters immediate relief.
“What else can we do today for people whose rents are too damn high?” asked bill author Richard Bloom.
Scotts Valley representative Mark Stone (D) argued that, if economic prosperity cannot solve the problem, the state must step in.
“In the Bay Area we’re seeing such a dichotomy of people winning and losing right in the same area,” said Stone. “It’s time to take the handcuffs off [cities].”
Saying California is “in a state of emergency,” Oakland representative Rob Bonta (D) noted, “This will not impose rent control; it will just allow local jurisdictions to have a conversation about it.”
Southern California representative Ed Chau seemed conflicted, saying, “Rents are out of control. Capping the rents may appear to solve the problem, but in the long run?”
Chau struggled with what to say before finally announcing he would refrain from voting.
Lawmakers’ first attempt to tally how many public speakers supported or opposed the bill proved too close to call. In the end, committee members quashed the bill. But San Francisco assemblymember David Chiu, who co-sponsored the bill, vowed: “This will not be the end of the conversation.”