After a lengthy legal process between Burbank and a City Council hopeful, a judge has ruled against the city, likely placing rent control on the ballot in November.
In a decision announced a day before the official hearing on Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel said the city failed to make a “clear showing” that a proposed rent regulation ordinance would require the rewriting of its charter, a move that would need more voter signatures than were collected in the petition for the potential ordinance.
The Burbank City Council met Friday afternoon to decide whether to adopt the proposed ordinance or place it on the ballot, but had made no decision by The Leader’s deadline. The council, however, did not appear likely to adopt the measure.
“Although [the] City asserts reasonable arguments in support of its position, Petitioners also assert reasonable counterarguments,” Strobel wrote. “For the reasons discussed above, City’s substantive challenges to the Initiative should not be resolved prior to the election.”
Strobel suggested that the challenge to the ordinance should be resolved after the election. She added that the city had not considered reviewing or challenging the ordinance at that point, which could allow any sections that violated the charter to be severed.
City Attorney Amy Albano did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the city would pursue litigation against the measure if it is adopted in November.
Burbank has been embroiled in a legal battle against City Council hopeful Konstantine Anthony and his campaign manager Margo Rowder — co-founders of the Tenants Rights Committee nonprofit — since June. That month, City Clerk Zizette Mullins rejected the pair’s petition to put the ordinance on the ballot, saying a necessary statement had been left out of their documents.
Anthony and Rowder sued, arguing the piece of language was not needed, and a judge ruled in their favor on July 23. But before that ruling, the city filed a cross-complaint about the ordinance’s alleged conflict with its charter, leading to the additional hearing on Friday. Petitions for charter amendments require signatures from at least 15% of the city voting population, while the petitioners collected only about 11.2%
The city also argued that the ordinance would elevate the Landlord-Tenant Commission, a panel that currently only provides information to interested parties, to a level of authority that conflicts with that of the City Council. If the ordinance is passed, the commission’s new abilities would include charging landlords an annual fee to pay for its expenses and holding rent-adjustment hearings.
Part of the text of the proposed ordinance states that “the Landlord-Tenant Commission shall be an integral part of the government of the City, but shall exercise its powers and duties under this Chapter independent from the City Council, City Manager, and City Attorney, except by request of the Landlord-Tenant Commission.”
However, Anthony’s and Rowder’s attorneys argued that the charter allows the City Council to create such a commission through its own ordinance, and therefore that voters should have the same power to do so.
PETITIONER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT MEASURE
Anthony, who told The Leader on Thursday that the city clerk’s office had verified him as a City Council candidate, said he believes the rent regulation measure has a strong chance of being passed in November, if the judge allows it to go to the ballot. The reason, he explained, is that Proposition 10, which would have repealed restrictions on rent control, received a majority of the vote in Burbank, though it lost statewide.
That claim has been advertised by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an organization whose advocacy group Housing Is a Human Right has publicly supported the push to put rent control on the Burbank ballot.
“We know that there is favorability for this type of legislation,” Anthony said in a phone interview. “My race, my candidacy is based on bringing a voice to all the people in the city who are ignored, who are not being listened to, the … renters who are struggling to pay their rent, who currently under the pandemic are worried about the eviction tsunami that is coming.”
CITY STUDIES PROJECTED IMPACT
A staff report also analyzed the potential effects of the proposed ordinance for the City Council, which held a public meeting after the hearing to discuss the report’s findings.
The report, the depth of which was limited by the relatively brief amount of time the city’s staff had to prepare it, estimates that more than 22,000 rental units could be affected by the ordinance’s rent control provisions.
It also pointed to Santa Monica and Berkeley, two cities with rent control measures, to suggest that the ordinance could require an annual budget of more than $5,717,000. Albano and Mullins said in the report that startup costs — “such as office space, equipment, office furniture, and supplies” — for the commission envisioned in the proposed ordinance could cost the city’s General Fund $2 million to $5 million.
Anthony emphasized that a state rent control bill that went into the effect in January, and which has provisions similar to the one he proposes, will automatically expire in 10 years. He also believes that having a local ordinance will allow Burbank to dictate its provisions — for instance, to give leniency to “mom and pop landlords” — since the state bill defers to existing municipal rent control regulations.
“For me, it’s all about local control,” he said. “What does the city here need and what are the residents here asking for?”