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Rent Control Rejected in Palo Alto

Palo Alto City Council

A memo penned by Palo Alto City Council members Tom DuBois, Lydia Kou, and Karen Holman proposing that rent stabilization and other renter protections be studied was widely panned by fellow city council members and the public on Monday October 16. The initiative failed to attract the support of any council members other than its authors, the council voting 6-3 against referring the renter protections issue to the Policy and Services Committee.

“Since 2011 the average rent has increased 50 percent, while incomes have only increased 5 percent,” said DuBois, the memo’s primary author. “Increasing renter protectors will enable long-term members of our community to stay here.”

“I think too many people are being pushed out by Adam Smith’s invisible hand… some kind of rent stabilization is needed. It’s an appropriate role for government to provide a social safety net,” said DuBois.

“People with low to moderate incomes were able to buy houses in Palo Alto,” said resident Ruth Chippendale of 1957 when she moved to the city.

“Renters are people we depend on to provide our community with services,” said resident Bob Moss.

“We need to provide housing for all [social] strata,” said resident Lynn Krug.

“The economic changes that have come to our area are really impacting our quality of life,” said former California State Assembly member Sally Lieber. “I hope that council will move this forward.”

But a majority of both public speakers and city council members envisioned disaster if rent control became law in Palo Alto. Landlords and “free market” ideologues were both out in force, sporting “No Rent Control” stickers.

“Rent control is one of the worst things in the Bay Area. Look at Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco,” said resident Ms Leong.

“Rent control will bring a disaster to the city. It will bring down the revenue,” said one man.

“This doesn’t lower rents in any way,” said Mayor Greg Scharff. “This will increase traffic congestion, this will decrease job mobility. Even studying this has huge negative consequences.”

“I think we should turn this down tonight and be done with it,” said Scharff.

“I don’t think rent control is an effective tool for addressing the housing issue,” said Vice Mayor Liz Kniss. “I don’t see this as solving the problem. The real issue is affordable housing.”

“The thing that I really like about this memo is that it gets the goal right,” said City Council member Eric Filseth, who heaped praise upon the proposal yet voted against it anyway.

“I’m quite skeptical here. I have a lot of worries for our city,” said City Council member Adrian Fine.

City Council member Cory Wolbach proposed “a three-legged stool approach” to housing affordability: 1. renter protections, 2. below market rate units, 3. add more supply.

Housing advocates have not decided if they will work to place a Rent Stabilization Initiative on the ballot in Palo Alto in any upcoming election. Measure V, which established rent stabilization in neighboring Mountain View, was approved by 53 percent of voters in November 2016.