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General News    H3'ed 5/23/10

Protests Erupt As LA City Council Kills Rent Freeze

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LA City Council Votes Down Rent Freeze Proposal

Garcetti, Rosendahl Change Votes, Protest Erupts & Turns Into Melee As Police Called In, Tenants Are Hurt & 3 Are Arrested

It was a sad day for the City of Los Angeles on May 22, as the LA City Council essentially provided tenants with a 3% rent increase notice. What was just as sad was the manner in which this decision was made and the events that followed.

The City Council Chambers was overflowing with tenants, including Coalition for Economic Survival members, and landlords there to weigh in on an ordinance

Tenants Pack Council Chamber in Support of Rent Freeze
Council Hearing
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introduced by City Council Member Richard Alarcón for a 4 month rent increase moratorium. The freeze was to enable the City Council to finish discussions regarding potential changes to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) without tenants being saddled with a new round of unjust rent increase of 3% scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

Two weeks earlier the City Council had approved requesting the drafting of the ordinance on an 8 to 6 vote. Unfortunately, on Friday the crowd was forced sit there for over 5 hours having to endure award ceremonies and other items until the rent freeze issue came up.

Adding insult to injury, because it was so late in the day and some Council Members had to leave, the public testimony and Council discussion was cut short.

Then it was learned that both Council President Eric Garcetti and Council Member Bill Rosendahl had changed their support for the rent freeze and planned to vote against it. This left the rent freeze one vote short of the required eight votes to pass it.

At that point Council Member Garcetti made a motion to send the rent freeze back to

Shaking Out Tenants
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Committee. "I think we need to have a comprehensive plan in place before we make any changes to the rent control measure at this time," Garcetti said.

Garcetti's reasoning made no sense since the process of developing a comprehensive plan had been going on for nearly a year and the freeze was not a change in rent control, but merely a temporary 'time-out' to enable the Council to finish a job it have been dragging its feet on.

In the end, the Council voted 8 to 5 to send it back to committee, thus killing any chance of putting a rent freeze in place before the July 1 rent increase is effective. Council Members Garcetti, Rosendahl, Cardenas, La Bonge, Koretz, Parks, Perry, Reyes, Smith and Zine all supported sending the issue back to committee.

Protest Erupts After Rent Freeze is Voted Down

Believing they were disrespected by having to wait all day and betrayed by Council Members Garcetti and Rosendahl, many tenants stood and voiced their outrage at the Council vote. Council Member Zine, who was chairing the meeting at that point, instructed the crowd to leave the Council Chambers. When some tenants refused, Zine called for the LA Police Department to come in and remove them. It then got ugly.

LAPD Called to Council Chambers
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With seniors, women and children still in the Chambers, LAPD started to forcibly push tenants out. A number of tenants were injured and three members of the LA Community Action Network (LACAN) were arrested.

Councilman Richard Alarcón, who proposed the rent freeze, said that during his years working for Mayor Tom Bradley and serving on the council he had never seen the "council lose control of its chamber'' and called the arrests a sad day in the city's history.

It's a very sad day for renters who are going to have to pay more rent when many of them cannot pay their bills now,'' Alarcón said. "What we saw today was an expression of their anger.''

Why the Rent Freeze Was Needed

The need for the freeze was because RSO tenants face a 3% rent increase on July 1st under the existing ordinance. A City commissioned RSO Study indicates 58% of LA's RSO tenants are paying unaffordable rents, while 31% are paying 50% or more of their income to rent.

While increases are based on the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), which is a negative .62%, the increases will be allowed because the RSO has a 3% rent increase floor guaranteeing landlords this amount even though the increase is not in any way justified. If the 3% floor did not exist the rent increase would be zero, based on the CPI The freeze was needed to give the Council more time to fix this and other inequities in the law which the Council is in the process of discussing.

The Debate Continues - Action Needed to Protect & Strengthen Rent Control

The process of addressing changes to the rent control law will continue. But, without the rent freeze in place there is no incentive for the City Council to act quickly. Tenants must become involved in this process, now more than ever. With this vote landlords and some Council Members are likely to feel more empowered to increase their efforts to weaken and destroy rent control. Without a strong tenant presence, they could succeed.

We urge that tenants and supporters of rent control contact Council Members Garcetti and Rosendahl to express your outrage and disappointment in their action which will result in tenants receiving another unjust 3% rent increase.

Council President Eric Garcetti Council Member Bill Rosendahl

213-473-7013 213-473-7011

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L.A. Council Blocks Rent Freeze, Triggering Protest

May 22, 2010

By Phil Willon and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council on Friday effectively scuttled a proposed four-month freeze on rent increases in the city, igniting a chaotic protest by tenant rights advocates inside the City Hall chambers that led to three arrests.

The proposed ordinance would have prevented owners of 630,000 rent-controlled apartments from raising rents between now and Oct. 31 to provide a respite for tenants buffeted by the recession. Instead, the council voted 10 to 5 to send the measure to a committee for further study, a procedural move killing the proposed freeze and allowing landlords to raise rents by up to 3% on July 1.

After the vote, outraged tenants and renters rights advocates who had been waiting five hours for the measure to be considered started shouting at the council. The protesters, dominated by members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, brought the meeting to a standstill with loud, echoing chants of "No justice, no peace!'' and other slogans.

Dozens of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and the city's General Services Police Department were called in after protesters filled the main aisle of the John Ferraro Council Chamber and refused to leave. Officers holding batons formed a mini skirmish line and began pushing the unruly crowd outside, and tackled and arrested three members of the community group.

"It was obvious that the small group disrupting the meeting wasn't pleased with the vote, and they were displaying their displeasure in a very violent manner," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who was chairing the meeting and ordered officers to "get them out now'' after several protesters ignored pleas for order.

Pete White, founder and co-director of the community group, identified the arrested members as Deanna Weakly, Steve Richardson, and Gerardo Gomez. Gomez was injured when his face smacked into one of the benches as police restrained him, according to White.

White, along with about 40 protesters, said he was en route to LAPD's Central Division station, where the three would be booked. The group planned to remain there until the suspects gained their release, White said.

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who proposed the rent freeze, said that during his years working for Mayor Tom Bradley and serving on the council he had never seen the "council lose control of its chamber'' and called the arrests a sad day in the city's history. But the protest and subsequent clash, he said, were triggered by a council vote that threatens to send some low-income renters onto the streets.

"These people are passionate. It's a very sad day for renters who are going to have to pay more rent when many of them cannot pay their bills now,'' Alarcon said. "What we saw today was an expression of their anger.''

Alarcon's proposal would have imposed a four-month moratorium on rent increases at buildings constructed before 1978 that have six or more units, a group that is governed by the city's rent control law. Under the law, owners of rent-controlled properties are eligible to impose 3% rent increases on July 1.

The freeze would have given the council time to consider rent control reforms and consider a comprehensive study on the issue currently underway by the city's Housing Department, Alarcon said.

However, several landlords testifying before the council said any rent freeze would be financially devastating to them, noting that they were being hit with higher utility bills, insurance costs and property taxes.

The freeze was derailed by a motion from Council President Eric Garcetti, who said it would be wiser for the council to wait and tackle the broader rent control reforms instead of addressing the issue with a piecemeal freeze. Voting against Garcetti's motion were council members Alarcon, Jose Huizar, Herb Wesson and Paul Krekorian.

"Not passing this means that the rent burden will increase here in the city, where 58% are paying unaffordable rents and 31% are paying 50% or more of their income to rent," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a renters rights group. "Not passing this is to side with injustice at a time when people are being laid off, furloughed, foreclosed upon and have to chose between paying rent, medical expenses, food and clothing."

The council on Friday also approved an ordinance that requires lenders to register foreclosed homes and face fines of up to $1,000 per day if foreclosed homes fall into disrepair and become a blight to a neighborhood. The ordinance is expected to raise up to $5 million a year for the city, money the council wants to use to reduce the number of layoffs needed to balance the budget.

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Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES). He has been with CES for 42 years, since its inception in 1973. CES is a grassroots, multi-racial, multi-ethnic tenants' rights organization serving low and (more...)

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