Council Hopeful, a Renters’ Advocate, Wins Suit Against Burbank

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
Konstantine Anthony, who plans to run for Burbank City Council, speaks at a June protest, announcing his lawsuit against the city for denying his petition to put rent regulation measures on the ballot. More than a month later, a judge ruled in his favor.

After successfully suing the city clerk for denying his petition, a tenants’ advocate planning a run for City Council is one step closer to putting a rent regulation measure on the ballot in November.
Konstantine Anthony and his campaign manager Margo Rowder, co-founders of the nonprofit Burbank Tenants’ Right Committee, sued City Clerk Zizette Mullins and the council in June. Mullins rejected the plaintiffs’ petition, which included more than 7,700 valid signatures from voters, in May, saying it had not included a “statement of reasons” explaining the necessity of the proposed ordinance.
However, Anthony’s attorney, Fredric Woocher, argued that Mullins and the city attorney had misinterpreted the Elections Code, relying on a version of the law that was changed in 1987 to remove the requirement the clerk cited.
The judge agreed, approving the plaintiffs’ request to require Mullins to approve the petition on Thursday.
While Anthony has been fighting the city in court, he has also been running for its governing council. But while he has gone from collecting signatures for the rent regulation measure to collecting them for his candidacy, he’s not worried that the lawsuit will hurt his endeavor.
“If anything, it bolstered my reputation,” he said in a phone interview. “I am the only candidate who has sued the city and won. I am championing 7,749 voters who demanded this goes on the ballot.”
Anthony and Rowder also said the lawsuit could have been avoided if the city had accepted the petition in the first place, though Rowder added that they’re not trying to stir up trouble with the municipality.
“I think the feeling is ‘Well, geez, you’re using taxpayer money to go to court on this thing,’” Rowder said in a phone interview. “The thing that started all this was the city’s rejection [of the petition]. That’s something that they decided to do, not us.”
Rowder, who recently made an unsuccessful bid for a council appointment to the Landlord-Tenant Commission, believes that if anything, the city is wasting money on legal fights.
But the matter hasn’t been settled yet. The city launched its own litigation against Anthony and Rowder, saying some of the provisions outlined in the proposed ordinance can’t be introduced by a ballot measure. City Attorney Amy Albano told The Leader on Wednesday that the plaintiffs should have instead brought forth a possible charter amendment.
They disagree, arguing that Albano is relying on an “exaggerated” reading of their ordinance proposal. The measure, they said, is worded vaguely enough that the city could avoid implementing it in a way that conflicts with the charter.
“The measure we wrote is 35 pages long, and they are trying to pull out three or four words from the entire document and claim … it invalidates the entire document,” Anthony said.
Albano was not available for comment on the judge’s decision by press time on Friday.
The hearing on Burbank’s argument — which, if accepted by a judge, could prevent the rent regulation measure from appearing on the ballot — is scheduled for Aug. 7.
If it survives the legal battle and is approved by voters, the proposed measure would have multiple effects, including capping rent increases for units built before Feb. 1, 1995, at 7% per year. It would also give additional authority to the city’s Landlord-Tenant Commission, allowing it to develop new regulations and penalize landlords who don’t comply with them.
Many of the points in the ordinance are already in place in some form due to the California Tenant Protection Act of 2019. For instance, the law requires landlords to first give a reason before evicting tenants who have lived in a unit for a year.
But Anthony said the state law’s limit on annual rent increases -— no more than 5% of the local inflation rate or 10%, whichever is lower — is still too weak for renters with fixed incomes. He also said the law automatically expires in 10 years, and has no built-in enforcement.
“Yesterday’s hearing, it changed the narrative,” he said Friday. “It’s no longer [that] our initiative didn’t qualify… It’s now that it [did], unless City Council can prove otherwise.”

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