L.A. on the Record: Renters are getting short shrift in the mayor’s race, advocates say

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. Dakota Smith and Benjamin Oreskes are at the helm, with some assistance from David Zahniser.

Larry Gross, who heads a nonprofit focused on renters’ rights, is disappointed that renters aren’t getting attention in the Los Angeles mayor’s race.

“I have gone to a lot of the debates, and quite frankly, the focus has been on the housing crisis,” said Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “No one is talking about preserving our affordable housing.”

The Times reported this week that the number of apartments available for rent in Los Angeles County was the lowest it’d been in two decades.

About 64% of the city’s residents are renters, and about 80% of the city’s rental units are designated as rent-controlled, which means that the rent in those units generally can’t be raised more than a small percentage each year. (When tenants move out of rent-controlled units, landlords can reset the rents to market rate but still must stick to the small annual increases.)

There’s a lot of debate about changing laws related to rent control, and L.A.’s mayor can advocate for amendments. The next mayor could also weigh in on the COVID 19-related freeze on rent hikes for rent-controlled units.

The Ellis Act law allows landlords to evict tenants if they intend to take units off the rental market or demolish the building to put up new housing. Another law, Costa-Hawkins, essentially bars cities and counties from expanding rent control to apartments built in recent years. (A statewide ballot measure, Proposition 10, which would have expanded local governments’ power on rent control, failed in 2018. A similar ballot measure failed in 2020.)

Opponents argue that amending Costa-Hawkins would hurt housing construction and drive up costs. Many economists also say that rent control leads to decreased home building.

Rep. Karen Bass, developer Rick Caruso, City Councilman Kevin de León and activist Gina Viola all told The Times that they support rent control. Some also had proposals for amending the Ellis Act or Costa-Hawkins.

De León said he wants to amend Costa-Hawkins so governments have more vacancy controls and can limit the ability of an owner to spike rents on rent-controlled units when a tenant moves out.

Also, someone who moves into a rent-controlled unit but then eventually earns a more substantial salary should have to move out, he said. “We can free up more units for people in need by tying a person’s eligibility to live in a rent-controlled unit to their income,” he said.

Douglas Herman, a spokesman for Bass, said she “believes we need to both build more affordable housing and protect existing renters.”

“Any reforms made at the state level to the Ellis Act or Costa-Hawkins would need to be done in consultation with tenants, landlords and other stakeholders,” Herman said, “and they would have to achieve the dual goals of encouraging production of more affordable housing and keeping our neighbors housed.”

Viola called for “true rent control.” “Landlords raising rents to market rate upon a change in tenant is a huge contributing factor to our housing crisis,” Viola said. She also called it “very disappointing” that Proposition 10 failed.

Realtor Mel Wilson said he didn’t support changes to either the Ellis Act or Costa-Hawkins. He said he supports rent control until adequate rental housing units are produced.

“Rent control laws artificially restrict rental income, making it difficult for multifamily-unit owners to generate enough income to cover their expenses,” Wilson added. Low rental income also leads owners to defer maintenance, he said.

When it comes to renters and public policies, Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone said, “There can always be improvements or reforms, and [Caruso] will convene groups or stakeholders to create consensus around housing and affordability issues.”

Ged Kenslea, senior director of communication at AIDS Healthcare Foundation, also expressed frustration about the lack of attention on rent control and adaptive reuse in the race.

“Renters are important because a lot of renters are on fixed incomes and are seniors,” Kenslea said. AIDS Healthcare has backed proposals to expand rent control.

State of play

— TIME TO HEAD FOR THE EXITS! City Atty. Mike Feuer bowed out of the mayor’s race and endorsed Bass. And city controller candidate Rob Wilcox exited the race and backed Councilman Paul Koretz, who is also running for controller.

Wilcox attacked rival Kenneth Mejia on his way out, accusing the controller candidate of having “alarming views.”

“We always expected that City Hall insiders in this race would join forces against us because of the amazing outsider, grass-roots, and diverse campaign we’re running that this city has never seen before,” Mejia shot back.

MANY STILL ON THE FENCE: A poll of Latino voters in Los Angeles by the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund found that De León and Caruso were leading, at 17% and 15%, respectively, while 40% of Latino voters remain undecided.

THIRD DISTRICT DRAMA : Sens. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Stern (D-Malibu) and West Hollywood City Council member Lindsey Horvath are among those vying for L.A. County Supervisor District 3. The district was recently redrawn in the redistricting process to take in more conservative-leaning parts of the San Fernando Valley, which frustrated outgoing Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

$$$: The Times reports on Caruso’s wealth and society’s conflicted views on money. “Voters may not care one way or another about Caruso’s fortune, [consultant Bill] Carrick speculated, if they become convinced he is the best person to solve the core problems of homelessness and crime.”

CARUSO’S SPIN: “He can control the message through his money.” Bill Boyarsky and Sherry Jeffe weigh in on the confounding Caruso candidacy at Inside Golden State Politics. Also, they are very frustrated that Caruso won’t give them an interview.

ASK FORGIVENESS: L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s campaign appears to have taken down an ad filmed at an East L.A. church after questions about whether they had permission to film at the site.

BASS & HOLLYWOOD: Bass told Hollywood studios and networks at a fundraiser this week “to think twice” before possibly pulling production out of states that ban abortion if Roe vs. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the Wrap reported.

And in non-campaign news …

FEWER COPS: The City Council scaled back Mayor Eric Garcetti’s spending plan. The mayor wanted 780 officers for the fiscal year starting July 1, but the city won’t get there. The “LAPD managed to hire that many officers just once in the past 15 years,” a city analyst wrote in a memo to city officials.

Latest numbers on the race

As the mayoral race hits the home stretch, we’re in a bit of suspended animation waiting for a clearer sense of how it will all shake out.

Here are some possible clues: An independent expenditure committee supporting Bass provided The Times with a survey that put Caruso at 37% and Bass at 35% support among likely voters. Another poll provided by Bass’ campaign showed her at 34% support among likely voters and Caruso getting 32% of the vote.

De León, who is the only other elected official still running and recently bought $1.2 million in advertising that will be on the air until election day, sits in third at 6%. In the poll done by Bass’ campaign, he received 7% support.

Feuer, who dropped out this week, also collected 6% of support from likely voters, while Councilman Joe Buscaino, who dropped out last week, collected just 1%, according to the poll done for the independent expenditure committee.

In that same poll, 6% said they would vote for someone else, and 10% were undecided. In the Bass campaign’s poll, 5% of voters said they’d vote for someone else and 17% of likely voters said they were undecided.

And in a one-on-one battle between Caruso and Bass, 48% preferred Bass and 39% preferred Caruso, the poll from the independent expenditure committee found. The rest were undecided.

The independent expenditure committee’s poll, of about 800 likely voters, was conducted from May 13 to 17 by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%. The Bass campaign’s poll was conducted by David Binder Research of 500 likely voters from May 12 to 16, with a margin of error of 4.4%.

The two polls — both from entities backing the congresswoman’s candidacy — found that Caruso and Bass are running within the margin of error of each other. It’s hard to say who is in front, but we can comfortably say it’s tight and it looks difficult for either Bass or Caruso to hit 50% in June.

At the Hollywood fundraiser this week, Bass mentioned the public and private polling floating around and her place in this race.

After spending millions, “what did he accomplish?” Bass said. “He caught up to me.”

In recent weeks, this independent expenditure committee supporting Bass poured most of its resources into ads slamming Caruso’s Republican ties and his record on abortion.

Caruso’s lawyers fired off a cease-and-desist letter — the second of the mayoral campaign — demanding that local broadcasters stop airing the ad, saying it misrepresented his history as a Republican.

The pro-Bass TV ad starts off by referring to him as Republican Rick Caruso, which the lawyers dispute.

In their letter, they said Caruso changed his party affiliation in 2011, switching from the GOP to a decline-to-state. In January, he re-registered again, this time as a Democrat. Caruso’s lawyers also said the ad incorrectly described his position on abortion. Caruso said he opposed the leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling that would invalidate Roe vs. Wade and was helping a campaign to enshrine abortion rights in the California Constitution.

Earlier, though, a 2007 article about Caruso in Los Angeles Magazine stated that Caruso “says he opposes abortion in most cases but would support some stem cell research.”

A lawyer for the pro-Bass committee said Caruso’s complaints were “without merit,” adding, “Caruso has billions of dollars to convince voters he is a real Democrat, but he should not be allowed to silence Democratic organizations … that question the sincerity of his switch.”

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  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote. Strategist Breelyn Pete (a former Garcetti staffer) of McGuireWoods registered to lobby for Garcetti’s ambassadorship to India on behalf of Garcetti’s parents, Gil and Sukey, Politico reported.

    “As an advisor to the mayor, I see my role as putting my knowledge of Senate processes and belief in the mayor’s integrity to use by helping to share truthful information with senators and their staffs,” Pete told The Times. Gil Garcetti didn’t respond to a request for comment.

  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: Former Mayor Richard Riordan endorsed Caruso. Gangsta rap pioneer Snoop Dogg and community activist “Sweet Alice” Harris also came out in support of the developer. The Korea Daily endorsed Caruso, saying the city needs a “skilled outsider.” Caruso picked up the support of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 11.
  • And other city endorsements: City attorney candidate Marina Torres received the endorsement of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Two leaders of the campaign to recall L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin endorsed Traci Park’s bid to fill Bonin’s council seat. The Times endorsed Dulce Vasquez over incumbent Curren Price in Council District 9. City attorney candidate Faisal Gil picked up the support of the Bruin Democrats, UCLA’s largest political organization, and the Los Angeles Progressive. In CD 15, Tim McOsker received the endorsement of Maritime Trades Department Southern California Ports Council AFL-CIO. And Kim Kardashian said she was “feeling hopeful” after talking to county supervisor candidate Stern.

(If you have an endorsement you’d like to flag for next week, please send it to us.)

  • The line of the week: “I would get up from the dead to vote for her,” 99-year-old TV writer and producer Norman Lear told The Times of Bass at the Hollywood fundraiser for her this week.
  • On the docket for next week: Political commentator Dan Schnur interviews Bass as part of the World Affairs Council and Town Hall’s mayoral series.

Stay in touch

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