Feb 082016

Bernie-Sanders-3In recent weeks, I’ve been hearing from quite a few Democrats that they like Bernie Sanders and what he stands for but they’re not sure that he’s really a Democrat.  After all, Sanders is the longest serving independent in the US Congress.  It’s true that Sanders has always caucused with Democrats and serves in Senate committees accordingly, but is he truly a Democrat at heart?

A good person to ask that question might be John Burton, the fiery chairman of the California Democratic Party.  Back in 2011, Burton invited Bernie Sanders to be the keynote speaker at the California Democratic Convention.  He personally introduced him, to the tune of  “I won’t back down” by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, telling Democratic delegates that Bernie “is our kind of Senator and we are his kind of Democrats.”   Sanders electrified the audience of grassroots Democratic activists.  He still does.

When Bernie Sanders started speaking about the possibility of running for President back in 2013, he was uncertain as to whether he’d run as an independent or as a Democrat.  “I want to hear what progressives have to say about it” he told The Nation in March, 2014. “The bolder, more radical approach is obviously running outside of the two-party system. Do people believe at this particular point that there is the capability of starting a third-party movement? Or is that an idea that is simply not realistic at this particular moment in history? On the other hand, do people believe that operating in framework of the Democratic Party, getting involved in primaries state-by-state, building organization capability, rallying people, that for the moment at least that this is the better approach? Those are the options that I think progressives around the country are going to have to wrestle with. And that’s certainly something that I will be listening to.”

Bernie asked and progressive Democrats responded asking him to run as a Democrat.  Progressive Democrats of America immediately put together a petition asking Sanders to step forward and be “a champion of ‘the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party'”.  Over 20,000 Democrats signed the petition, committing ourselves to “knock on doors, donate, make phone calls, use social media, and do everything we can to elect Bernie Sanders the next President of the United States.”   Democratic activists followed up by hosting house parties across the country, organizing rallies and phone banking to try to build the basis for a Sanders run and thus convince him that he had a real shot at winning the Democratic primaries.  This efforts paid off when Bernie announced he would run in the Democratic primary.

Bernie Sanders’ run is already helping to transform the party. After years of declining Democratic registration, we are finally to see an uplift.  John Burton is right, Bernie Sanders is our kind of Senator and he will be our kind of President, a Democratic one.




Jan 272016

hard_times_bigThis article has been contributed by Guillermo Elenes.

With more and more cities in California grappling with displacement and rising rents, and with 45% of residents renting, it’s time to implement serious policy solutions to stabilize communities. The myths abound on rent control policy and prevent cities from pursuing what is really a moderate and reasonable regulation of the largely unregulated private rental market. Unless you think landlords should be able to raise rents however much they want, whenever they want, you believe in rent control and should consider adopting it in your community.

Rent control is not a ceiling on rents; it’s a regulation against rent-gouging. It is common for someone who is against rent control to mention that “93% of economists are against rent control.” However, the source for this common citation is a 1992 survey of US economists in which 93% agreed with the statement “A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”1 Regardless of whether these economists are right or not, modern rent control laws are not a ceiling on rents. The only true rent ceiling existed in New York City before 1970, and the policy has since been overhauled. As Richard Arnott wrote in his paper “Time for Revisionism on Rent Control” in 1995, “…generalizing from the New York City experience may be more like inferring the effects of a gentle breeze from the ravages of a hurricane.” Except during World War II as an emergency measure, no city in California has had or currently has a rent ceiling. Rent control is, in reality, is a “set of regulations governing not only allowable rent increases, but also conversion, maintenance, and landlord-tenant relations” in order to prevent rent-gouging and displacement.2

Rent control doesn’t make rents rise, that’s like blaming a fire on the presence of a firefighter. It makes sense that expensive cities are the ones that pass rent control – these regulations get considered, passed and retained in response to high prices. When modern rent control laws were first passed in California, they were passed in response to landlords raising prices in response to inflation in 1970s and not lowering them even after the state passed a law giving tax relief to property owners through Prop 13.3

Why not just build-baby-build instead? Trickle-down housing policies don’t work. Co Star, a real estate research firm, reported that of 370,000 multi-family rental units completed from 2012 to 2014 in 54 metropolitan areas, 82% were considered “luxury.” Luxury housing is the new “market-rate.” Building housing for high-income people attracts more high income people, rather than lowering prices to levels affordable to low and moderate income people. In a gentrifying market, demand typically far outpaces what can realistically be built. High-income renters don’t just go for newer units, they demand older units too, and are able to outbid lower-income tenants.4 Many cities without rent control are seeing higher rents on older units and new units are unaffordable.

Rent control doesn’t work like it should because it is undermined by state laws like the Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins Act. Through Ellis Act evictions, thousands of rent-controlled units have been taken off the market and converted to condos. The Costa-Hawkins Act prevents rent control from protecting condos, single-family homes, rentals built after 1995, and allows landlords to charge market rate for new tenants (called vacancy decontrol). The Harvard Law Review singled out vacancy decontrol as a reason for landlords to harass current rent-controlled tenants in order to make more money on new tenancies. In 2000, the journal of the American Planning Association in 2000 cited vacancy control as essential to preventing displacement. These shortcomings aren’t the fault of rent control, but of a State legislature where one of the biggest donors to political campaigns on both sides of the aisle is the California Realtor’s Association.

There are 13 cities in California that have had rent control on the books for decades. The laws have stood the test of time and stood up to court challenges. With rising rents and displacement, more cities are taking a second look at rent control and strengthening their laws. In July 2015, the first city in 30 years to pass a new rent control law was Richmond, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area. San Diego has just cause for eviction on their books, and tenants are clamoring to add rent control policies. Alameda, Santa Rosa, San Mateo, Burlingame and San Jose tenants are pushing for stronger protections. Momentum is building for this popular policy, and that is not just popular: it’s necessary.

1 Alston , Richard M., J R Kearl, and Michael B. Vaughan. 1992. “Is there a consensus among economists in the 1990s?” American Economic Review 82(2): 203-209.
2 Arnott, Richard. 1995. “Time for Revisionism on Rent Control?” The Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol. 9, No.1: 99-120.
3 Forbes, Jim, and Matthew C. Sheridan. 2004. “The Birth of Rent Control in San Francisco.” San Francisco Apartment Magazine Online, June. www.sfaa.org/0406forbes.html.
4 The Harvard Law Review Association. 1988. “Reassessing Rent Control: Its Economic Impact in a Gentrifying Housing Market.” Harvard Law Review Vol. 101, No 8: 1835-1855.

Jan 272016
Want to Help Change the Democratic Party? Run for County Central Committee!

It’s no secret that the Democratic Party is in crisis.  Nationally, the pro-Wall Street policies of the establishment are being challenged by the insurgent campaign of Bernie Sanders.  In California, voters have expressed their displeasure to the growing corporatism of the Party by increasingly registering as “declined to state”.  And in Alameda County, voters have shown their lack of respect for the Party by increasingly dismissing Party endorsements. While making systemic changes to the state and party structures is challenging, a good place to start is with county Democratic central committees.  Most candidates for national office start their political careers [Continue Reading]

Jan 242016
California Democratic Party to Automatically Endorse Incumbents

The California Democratic Party has just become a little bit more undemocratic.  New rules quietly enacted by the Party give Democratic incumbents for state and federal office the automatic endorsement of the Party.   While in the past an incumbent would get the Party’s endorsement if he received just 70% of the votes at a pre-convention endorsement caucus or 50%+1 of the votes at the convention, incumbents will now be automatically endorsed unless 20% of all delegates from the district to file an objection.  This is harder than it sounds.  While delegates may punish a bad incumbent by voting for someone [Continue Reading]

Dec 302015
Mike Honda's Campaign Hits New Low with Trump reference

Today Mike Honda’s campaign sent an e-mail to Honda’s supporters (and people like me, who somehow ended up in his mailing list), suggesting that his opponent, Ro Khanna, is supported by Donald Trump. Forget the fact that Khanna is a liberal Democrat, who is deeply committed to human rights and social justice. Forget the fact that the differences in political ideology between Khanna and Mike Honda‘s are so minute that Honda has not been able to articulate them. And forget the fact that to Trump’s supporters likely consider Khanna a brown-skinned, non-Christian “anchor baby” worthy of the same type of [Continue Reading]