The final Beverly Hills City Council election results were posted by Los Angeles County today. After a prolonged bit of suspense because the County, for the first time in my memory, administered our election, now the tallies are in. What a nail-biter!
The good news is that John Mirisch returns to City Council to join incoming Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember-elect Robert Wunderlich in what could be a majority vote for stronger rent stabilization reforms this summer. I can’t stress enough the importance of this outcome! We need just three votes for rent stabilization and Mirisch, Bosse and Wunderlich are all cognizant of tenants’ concerns.
On the other side of the Council dais will sit councilmember-elect Les Friedman and councilmember Julian Gold. Both live north of Santa Monica Boulevard and neither appear particularly allied with those who rent. More specifically, they have suggested that they understand the concerns of property interests. But it is early yet and I will give them the benefit of (my) doubt.
Remember that Gold was Friedman’s key backer on the campaign trail. In February candidate forums, Friedman pointedly declined to endorse City Council’s January urgency ordinance that capped rent increases at 3% (and imposed relocation fees for all who rent). Just as Gold had pushed back against the 3% cap, Friedman, when asked about rent stabilization and the 3% cap, merely invoked Gold’s language.
Those of us who saw our 10% increases summarily chopped to 3% recently understand how important it is that elected representatives recognize the need to ensure residential stability in multifamily neighborhoods. But that stability is undermined by egregious rent increases that, when compounded annually, effectively double the rent in fewer than eight years.
Imagine that incumbent councilmember and candidate Nancy Krasne was returning to City Council. And that Krasne is the swing vote on rent stabilization. As our incoming Mayor she would be settinmg the agenda. She trails the third-place finisher Wunderlich by only 18 votes!. That razor-thin margin is too close for my comfort. We all probably dodged a bullet.
Again, this is all speculation. Krasne has on occasion extended personal assistance to those who rent. Indeed some tenants believe that Krasne is an ally on rent stabilization. Now, I acknowledge her good heart, but she can’t single-handedly protect all 8,600 households that rent. Residential stability is a public interest that begs a policy approach, not a personal one.
Moreover, I was concerned that Krasne was not on board philosophically with rent control. Before the last Council meeting, she circulated to fellow councilmembers an article titled, ‘The High Cost of Rent Control,’ that came from the February issue of Apartment Owners Magazine That is a great read if you’re the landlord, but not so engaging if you’re a tenant.
Also, we also need the right tools to enforce the law.But Krasne only reluctantly supported the essential registry of rental units. Like Gold, she questioned its cost and the cost-effectiveness of developing a registry. Every rent-stabilized city uses a registry to track rents; how could Nancy Krasne not support an essential tool?
And last, there is the issue of Krasne’s campaign donations. Almost until election day, no other candidate pulled in as much money from property interests, or garnered as big a proportion of their total received contributions from them, as did Krasne. In the most recent reporting period (ending 2/18/17), half of Krasne’s contributors (and half of her campaign dollars) came from property owner or manager interests. And many came from just a few firms at the same business address.
And those dollars rolled in to Krasne’s campaign on February 18th – which is just three days prior to the important February 21st City Council meeting that put rent stabilization on the agenda. Other candidates on average saw just one-fifth of their support come from property interests during that reporting period.
Krasne’s haul contrasted most sharply with Mirish and Wunderlich who each received rock-bottom support from owners and managers. (Fun fact: 5th-place finisher Eliot Finkel was the only candidate to report a cash donation from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, the landlords’ industry association.)
Krasne Re-Brands Her Campaign
One clue that Nancy Krasne didn’t make renter protections a priority is that, like every candidate, she didn’t touch on the issue in her campaign platform. She had supported Council’s urgent action in January and February to freeze increases, true, but that was not mentioned on her campaign website either. Likewise, her campaign mailers were silent on renters’ rights and her one campaign event that did target those who rent was actually cancelled.
But once Renters Alliance sent out an appeal to voters to support other candidates, Nancy Krasne pulled out all of the stops: she completely re-branded her campaign to be the renter’s [sic] candidate. It was a nimble pivot in the closing days of the campaign. My hat is off to her for that effort.
Krasne spent thousands of dollars to put pro-renter flyers into mailboxes. She re-labeled an already-scheduled wine and cheese reception as as a renters’ rights organizing event. And I even found Krasne flyers on cars in my multifamily neighborhood on election day. Clearly she had come around to the issue but her late push was not enough to overtake Wunderlich for the #3 spot.
Had Nancy Krasne finished third, though, she would be the swing vote and, possibly, have sided with Gold and Friedman. That’s speculation, of course, but I believe that other candidates (and a different Mayor) will better safeguard renter protectionsin the months ahead.
We Made a Difference!
I believe the efforts of Alliance supporters to get out the vote in the final days made a difference. Without the help of a dozen volunteers to hang flyers and to make contact with voters on election day, we could be facing a decidedly unsympathetic City Council instead of a workable majority we have now. I want to thank all of you who helped!
While I know we made some difference, we can’t know how much of a difference. First, turnout was very low (about 16% of registered voters). Indeed the electorate was very difficult to motivate this cycle. On our side, the challenge was to explain a complex issue and frame the voter’s choice as a strategic one that may, or may not, pay off later with a better rent stabilization law.
Were we successful in getting pro-renter-rights voters out? Hard to know! Inferring the effect of our get-out-the-vote effort is difficult because this County-consolidated election included fewer polling places than did earlier elections. The depressed turnout and diminished number of polling places makes any precinct-level analysis less meaningful. I would like to see a bump-up in turnout across precincts that include multifamily blocks, say, but I don’t believe the returns will reveal it with any granularity.
My precinct-level charts will have to wait until we have the final election returns in any case. The next update is due Monday, March 20th. But don’t expect the candidate ranking to change. There are very few votes yet to be counted. The few who did vote have spoken. Those who choose not to vote decided not to have their say on the composition of our next City Council – the body that will decide the future or rent stabilization, perhaps the most significant policy issue for most city residents in recent history.