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CES In The News

Los Angeles Downtown News
Friday May 1, 2008
Mad Props
Anger and Eminent Domain Rise For Propositions 98 and 99
By  Richard Guzmán

Opponents of Proposition 98 say that if the measure passes, tenants of Downtown's Cecil Hotel, and similar residential hotels, could lose their rent-control protection. Backers say that is not the case. Photo by Gary Leonard.

It's been called a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and a "hidden agenda scheme" by opponents, and hailed as a necessary protection for property owners by its supporters.

But if you're still not sure whether or not to back Proposition 98, a statewide measure that will appear on the June 3 ballot, you're not alone. Many people are confusing it with Proposition 99, another eminent domain-related measure on the same ballot.

While the rhetoric and the ads are heating up, a cadre of local leaders are clear: They're aggressively against Prop 98.

"If this were to pass, we would see more people on the street, we would see redevelopment grind to a halt and we would see the ability to preserve affordable housing go out the door," said City Council President Eric Garcetti, who authored a resolution against the proposition in mid-April. It was approved by the entire council.

Proposition 98, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, aims to curb eminent domain by stopping government from taking private property for private use. Proponents say it assures that people's land and holdings will not be turned over to developers, and gives them more freedom to set rental prices.

Many opponents instead back Proposition 99, a measure sponsored by the League of California Cities that would protect homeowners only from having their property seized for private use.

"We're facing the largest housing crisis since the Great Depression and the last thing we need to do is something that would be the largest step backward that we've seen in a generation," Garcetti said.

Rent control laws in Los Angeles cover all units built before Oct. 1, 1978. They affect apartments, mobile homes and residential hotels and kick in when a tenant occupies the residence for more than 30 days.

There are about 627,000 rent-controlled units in Los Angeles, according to the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants' rights group based just west of Downtown Los Angeles, which opposes Proposition 98.

There are no specific figures on how many rent-controlled units exist in Downtown, but in districts that overlap the area, such as Jose Huizar's 14th District, Ed Reyes' First District and Jan Perry's Ninth District, there are a cumulative 127,000 rent-controlled units, according to figures provided by the city's Housing Department.

In Downtown, adaptive reuse projects turned into condominiums are not covered by rent control laws. Tenants in residential hotels such as the Alexandria and the Cecil, which has about 100 long-term tenants, are protected by the laws.

"A coordinated attack on rent control, which is one of the safeguards of keeping people in affordable housing, is very frightening," Perry said. "It would create more chaos out there in the market for us to keep people in housing. As it is, we can't build affordable housing fast enough."

Current rent control laws restrict the amount of money a landlord may raise rent each year. If a tenant moves out, however, a landlord can reset the rent at market rate. Once the unit is rented again, it falls back under rent control guidelines.

Under Proposition 98, once a tenant in a rent-controlled apartment moves out, that unit would never again be subject to rent-control laws.

Focusing on Eviction

Advocates of Prop 98 say it would protect property owners from prying governments.

"It would prevent the City Council from taking property, whether it be a small business, a house of worship or even an apartment building, and turning it over to developer allies for things like strip malls and profit-making enterprises," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Vosburgh noted that it would phase out rent control, but said that would occur only after a tenant voluntarily vacates a unit.

He added that Proposition 98 does nothing to restrict the seizure of property for public uses such as building roads, schools or firehouses.

"It is the private-to-private transfers" that are affected, he said.

That provides little comfort to opponents, who argue that the measure would also jeopardize laws that protect renters, including making evictions easier.

"They say it won't affect existing renters," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, "but while it might continue to control rent increases while the existing tenant is in there, all the eviction protection would be immediately eliminated, thus making controls on rent increases meaningless because they would just boot everyone out."

Vosburgh maintained the proposition would not impact restrictions on evictions.

"There's nothing in there that would change any of that. That's just a lot of nonsense," he said.

Proposition 98 is opposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former Gov. Pete Wilson. Groups against the measure include the California Chamber of Commerce, the League of California Homeowners and the California Association of Counties.

Groups supporting Proposition 98 include the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights Committee, the California Republican Party and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

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