Record-breaking campaign cash in Santa Rosa rent control fight

Real estate interests upped the ante in their already high-stakes fight against Santa Rosa’s rent control law, pumping another $334,000 last week into the record-breaking campaign against Measure C.

Opponents of the city’s rent control law ordinance, which is suspended until voters weigh in during the June 6 referendum, have now blown away all political fundraising records for a city race, raising $815,791 to date.

“This is the largest spending campaign in the history Santa Rosa by far,” said Terry Price, chairman of the Yes on C campaign and a veteran political consultant. “There is nothing that even comes close to this type of massive amounts of spending.”

Supporters of rent control, by comparison, have raised just $123,460, giving the No campaign a nearly 7-to-1 fundraising advantage to date and a huge war chest heading into the final three weeks of the campaign.

The total of the two campaigns combined is now exceeds $939,000, though definitive campaign finance filings aren’t due until May 25.

The latest blast of cash came primarily from a $300,000 donation from the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors.

The two campaigns immediately sparred over whether that donation could be characterized as out-of-area money or not.

Political consultant Rob Muelrath is running the campaign officially known as Citizens for Fair and Equitable Housing: Rental Housing Providers and Real Estate Professionals Opposing Measure C. He said the money is local because it originated from the dues of the thousands of North Bay real estate agents and Realtors.

When members of the North Bay Association of Realtors pay professional dues, a portion of that money gets earmarked for the national group’s political action committee, including efforts in their local area, Muelrath said.

“The money is really coming from your local Realtors,” Muelrath said. “It’s coming out of the North Bay.”

The same is true when donations come from groups like the California Association of Realtors, he said.

But Mayor Chris Coursey said Santa Rosa voters can use common sense and the black-and-white on the campaign finance forms to figure out where the cash really came from.

“On its face, when a check has a return address of Chicago or Los Angeles or Sacramento, don’t tell me that money is coming from Santa Rosa,” Coursey said.

Coursey is not directly involved in the Fair and Affordable Housing — Yes on C committee, but is a strong supporter and was part of the narrow council majority that voted in favor of rent control in August. The law was suspended after petition gatherers paid for by real estate interests gathered enough signatures to force a citywide vote.

If approved, rent increases would be capped at 3 percent annually for about 11,100 apartments built in Santa Rosa before Feb. 1, 1995. Measure C would also require landlords to give a reason for evicting tenants, and in some cases require them to pay relocation expenses.

The law exempts anyone living in single-family homes, duplexes, owner-occupied triplexes and condominiums. The $1.4 million program cost would be paid for by a landlords and renters of covered units.

Coursey said he always knew the real estate industry would oppose the law, but didn’t realized it would go to these lengths to block it, he said. Still, Coursey said he likes Measure C’s chances.