Santa Monica Rent Control Wins!

by Michael Tarbet, SMRR Co-Founder

Before SMRR was founded, in 1978, a team of pioneering seniors got enough signatures to place rent control on the June Santa Monica ballot. Tima Tomash, Ida Singer, Rose Boin, Lillian Storik and Sylvia Hill joined with Housing Commissioner Syd Rose to approach Legal Aid attorney, Robert M. Myers, to have the Rent Control Charter Amendment drawn up.

The team of seniors, calling themselves the Santa Monica Committee for Fair Rents, approached the Santa Monica-Venice Chapter of the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED) looking for help. Denny Zane and Parke Skelton agreed to check it out. They came back enthusiastic, but by then the statewide CED had decided to work on another issue. So, Zane and Skelton went to Rev. Jim Conn, who agreed to call a small meeting of Santa Monica activists.

That small group became allies with the seniors to form the first rag tag campaign. Moe Stavnezer and Lynda Vitale worked out of Syd’s garage. We organized a larger group that we called the Santa Monica Fair Housing Alliance at Cheryl Rhoden’s apartment. It was easy to get volunteers because we were all losing neighbors to rising rents.

We lost the first campaign in 1978, 46% to 54% because the landlords outspent us 25 to 1 and because they said they’d lower rents if Prop 13 passed and reduced their taxes. Homeowners had sided with landlords because in the first measure, owners of one, two or three units would have come under rent control. Prop 13 won, but the rents still rose. At Linda Garrett’s Bookstore in Ocean Park, we decided to have another go.

Denny and I went back to Bob Myers and he changed the language for a new measure so that owner-occupied buildings of one, two or three units would be exempt. We got signatures to place a measure on the April 1979 ballot, convinced Ruth Yannatta Goldway to be our City Council candidate and we raised more money with Denny’s Boogie Strategy: dances at the Church in Ocean Park.

We initially formed SMRR as a coalition of SMFHA, CED, SM Democratic Club, and the Committee for Fair Rents. Parke & Denny led the campaign. (It was later, in 1984, that we changed to the membership organization we are today.)

This time, Santa Monica voters passed Rent Control 54 to 46%, and we elected Ruth.

April 10, 1979. Victory Party at Dolores Press’ Retail Clerks’ Union Hall. Whoopee!

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