The threat of Proposition 98

Pub date May 20, 2008
WriterMara Math
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Just as the California Supreme Court finally recognizes queers as full and equal citizens by ruling in favor of gay marriage, a June 3 ballot measure threatens to kill anti-discrimination protections for queers. But that’s not the half of it: Proposition 98 is in fact a savage attack on protections of all kinds for all Californians.

A fraud wrapped within a fraud, Prop. 98 masquerades as eminent domain reform while only semi-covertly legisutf8g the death of rent control. But just as rent control is about far more than price alone, Prop. 98 is about far more than only ending rent control.

All Californians, not only the 14 million who rent, will be trampled under the iron hooves of this Trojan horse. In a detailed analysis, the Western Center on Law and Poverty concludes: "There is nothing in the text that prevents Prop. 98 from being used to prohibit or limit land use decisions, zoning, work place laws, or environmental protections."

Prop. 98 not only bans all state and local residential and mobile-home rent control laws, now and forever, it kills inclusionary housing requirements and ends tenant protections in the Ellis Act. But wait, there’s more! As assessed by the Western Center, other "likely" applications of Prop 98 include the end of just-cause protections for eviction, and the end of most regulation of residential rental property.

The center also rates it "possible" that Prop. 98 will invalidate all anti-discrimination protections below the federal level — including California’s LGBT fair-housing protections.

Given the potential outcome, the nearly $2 million that more than 100 apartment building and mobile home park owners spent to put Prop. 98 on the ballot, and the subsequent $291,000 that the Apartment Owners Association political action committee gave the Yes on 98 campaign represent a shrewd investment.

It would be a bargain for them at twice the price. Being able to charge unlimited amounts for renter screening and credit checks, for instance, and no longer having to provide deadbolt locks, a usable telephone jack, and working wiring means a nice chunk of change for landlords and speculators. But that’s nothing compared to the larger gains to be exploited: a landlord would be free to have you sign a lease without being obligated to disclose that he or she already applied for a demolition permit on the property. Serious defects in the unit? Too bad, the prohibition on landlords collecting rent while substandard conditions exist would fly out the (broken) window.

Unlike the tenant-backed Prop. 99, which truly prevents eminent domain abuse on behalf of renters and owners alike, Prop. 98 only guarantees the domain of the wealthiest over the rest of us. If we let this Trojan horse in, whether actively — by voting for it — or passively — by not voting — June 3 (and that’s a real danger since too many San Francisco voters assume the measure will fail anyway), all Californians will pay the price. *

Mara Math is a writer and tenant organizer.