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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Cathy Leaves the Door Ajar for Rent Control

Cathy Murillo said at a mayoral debate Friday that “rent control is coming” to Santa Barbara in the form of a future ballot measure, adding later she does “not rule out” supporting such an initiative.

The council member’s comments came during and after a Rotary Club forum, featuring all five candidates for mayor at the Fess Parker. It was the first time rent control had surfaced as an issue in the campaign, and Murillo’s statements contrasted sharply with the categorical anti-rent control views expressed by her four rivals.

“Rent control is a disaster,” said Frank Hotchkiss, Murillo’s conservative council colleague, in the strongest denunciation of a policy long and bitterly opposed by local landlords and real estate interests.

Murillo, the most liberal candidate in the race, however, said in answer to a question about affordable housing, posed by moderator and former City Administrator Jim Armstrong, that she would remain open-minded in the face of any efforts by tenants rights groups to place a rent control measure on a future ballot.

“Rent control is coming,” she told an audience of about 75 people. “Members of the public will submit signatures. I’ll deal with that when it comes.”

After the forum ended, Newsmakers asked Cathy to amplify and clarify her comments:

Q: “So when you say you’re going to consider it, are you saying that you support rent control or don’t support rent control?”

A: “If someone gathers the signatures and puts it on the ballot then we’ll have to take a position on it, right?”

Q: “So you’re not ruling out rent control?”

A: “Right, I’m not ruling it out.”

Q: “Okay, because the others did.”

A: “If someone’s going to collect the signatures and put it on the ballot, we’ll all have to make a decision about it.”

Q: “Okay, because the others all ruled it out. That’s all I’m asking.”

A: “Okay.”

Tenant rights conflation. A few hours later, Murillo emailed to say that she “misspoke” earlier, and had conflated efforts to advance rent control with a current signature-gathering campaign, led by the tenant rights group, Rental Housing Roundtable, in favor of a “just cause eviction” measure. That would limit and restrict the reasons for which a landlord could evict a tenant.

The Rental Housing Roundtable is “currently building support for a just cause eviction ordinance, I think that involves circulating petitions,” her email said. “I've been to a couple of (the group’s) meetings and people talk about putting an initiative on the ballot for rent control.”

“I think that is a real possibility,” Murillo added. “That's why I said what I did at the forum today.”

About 60 percent of residents in Santa Barbara are renters. Amid high rents and a near-zero vacancy rate, tenant advocates earlier this year convinced the council to consider a batch of proposed protections.

The council formed a joint landlord-tenant task force on the issue but, under intense pressure from landlord groups and real estate interests, took rent control off the table as a policy alternative.

The Indy had the best coverage of the dispute, particularly a piece by Nick Welsh here, and another by Tyler Hayden here.


Images: Cathy Murillo: Pro-and-con signs from a fight over rent control in Oregon: ( and

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