Rent control backers filing complaints over opponent’s mailers

by Bryce Druzin –

Silicon Valley rent control activists are crying foul over an anti-rent control mailer, but the group that sent the mailer said it’s done nothing wrong.

One mailer in question (see first photo) was sent by the California Apartment Association Issues Committee to San Mateo residents, who will vote on a rent control initiative this November. The mailer’s front page, referring to a February report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s office, states that “California’s Legislative Analyst Shows that Measure Q Hurts Renters & San Mateo.”

At the top of the mailer is a banner design almost identical to that found on theLAO’s website, while disclosure information about the source of the mailer is located at the bottom.

Tony Samara, a San Mateo resident and rent control activist with the nonprofit Urban Habitat, sent a complaint dated Oct. 11 to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission. The complaint alleges that the mailer misleads readers to believe that the mailer was sent by the LAO, and that the LAO opposes Measure Q, which it does not.

In an interview, Samara said the CAA was “impersonating a state agency.”

CAA Senior Vice President Joshua Howard called the complaint a “publicity stunt” and rejected the accusation.

“We would encourage voters to read the entire mailer, because it says very clearly that it’s paid for by the California Apartment Association,” he said.

Working against the complaint is the fact that complain form from the FPPC, which regulates disclosure requirements for political ads, explicitly states that it does not regulate the content of political advertising.

Similar mailers from the CAA were sent to other Bay Area cities with rent control initiatives on the ballot, including Mountain View (see second photo), Burlingame and Alameda. A New York Times article reported that East Bay rent control activists protested outside a CAA office in Hayward and were planning to also send complaints.

In the campaign fights up and down the Bay Area, property owners have a huge financial edge over rent control activist. In Mountain View, property owner interests had spent $478,000 as of Oct. 3, while the pro-rent control Mountain View Tenants Coalition spent $15,400 as of Sept. 24.

According to the Times, landlords have raised over $1 million in total to fight the region’s initiatives, five or six times the amount rent control backers have raised.

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