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Larkspur rent-control initiative gains momentum

May 13, 2024

By GIUSEPPE RICAPITO | gricapito@marinij.com

San Rafael neighborhood

A tenants rights group is seeking to place an initiative for strict renter protections in Larkspur on the November ballot.

The initiative would cap annual rent increases at 60% of the consumer price index or 3%, whichever is lower, said Curt Ries, an initiative organizer and co-chair of the Marin Democratic Socialists of America. Larkspur’s rent-control ordinance caps rent increases at 5% plus inflation or 7%, whichever is lower.

The initiative would ban arbitrary evictions, prohibit harassment and codify the right of tenants to organize. It would also conform to state law for fair rate of return for landlords, require landlords to pay for relocation if tenants are evicted without cause and provide additional protection to seniors and students.

The effort follows the narrow passage of Measure D by less than 200 votes in the March primary. Measure D was a referendum pitched by residents seeking to strike down the city’s rent-control law. The initiative asked for a simple vote on whether rent control should exist, and the yes vote won.

You can never take anything for granted in politics. We felt like the results from March from Measure D were very positive for us,” Ries said. “We have a more progressive more democratic electorate so we feel pretty good about our chances.”

The organizers submitted a petition to the city signed by more than 1,100 people. Marin County Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts said her office is checking signatures. If the signatures are verified, the City Council will move to place the topic on an agenda to discuss adding it to the ballot.

County officials have until June 18 to certify the signatures, Ries said. The group needs 911 signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

Ries said that if the initiative passes, it would replace the current ordinance.

Ries said the constituency behind the effort represents Larkspur renters, homeowners, advocates, workers and parents. Groups such as the North Bay Labor Council, an arm of the AFL-CIO, and the Skylark Tenant Association, an advocacy group from one of the city’s apartment complexes, are involved in leading the campaign.

I am so proud of the incredible volunteer effort that knocked on thousands of doors in Larkspur and spoke to over 1,000 residents,” said Caroline Njoki, president of Skylark Tenant Association. “The message from 1,100 Larkspur neighbors is clear: We can’t wait to vote for real rent control in November.

Michael Sexton of Fairfax, director of Marin Residents, a nonprofit composed of homeowners, housing providers and renters, said his group is considering whether to spend money to actively campaign against the initiative.

The group helped organize a referendum to be considered by Fairfax voters in November and led the campaign for a rent-control referendum in San Anselmo that is being considered for the ballot.

I think we are glad they are putting it out there,” Sexton said. “They are saying the quiet part out loud. They want to take away our property rights.

Mayor Scot Candell declined to comment, noting the council had not yet discussed the topic.

Councilmember Gabe Paulson said he is proud to have co-authored Measure D and codified rental protections for the city. He said he plans to dedicate the next year to a focus on affordable housing policies such as Section 8 subsidies and affordability policies.

“I am glad that all the voters of Larkspur will have a voice deciding rent control,” he said. “I spent a year as mayor deliberating with the council and public the pros and cons. I believe we arrived at a policy position reflective of public input and appropriate for five representatives to decide. A stricter rent-control policy should be decided by the public.”

San Anselmo’s rent-control ordinance limits annual increases to 5%, or 60% of the consumer price index, whichever is lower. A group seeking a referendum on the ordinance in San Anselmo has submitted a petition with 1,568 signatures in support of the effort.

Fairfax’s ordinance limited increases to 75% of the regional consumer price index and no more than 5%. The town has certified a citizens’ ballot initiative that seeks to repeal the town’s rent-control and just-cause-for-eviction ordinances. The initiative will be considered by voters on Nov. 5.

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