Tenants group may bypass Merced council

Signature gathering might bring back renter ordinance

abutt@mercedsunstar.comJune 6, 2012 

Tenants Together, a San-Francisco based nonprofit, began collecting signatures from Merced residents Wednesday to try to overturn the pending repeal of a renters' rights ordinance.

The organization needs 2,900 signatures within a 30-day period to force the City Council to reconsider its decision. The ordinance remains in effect during the signature gathering.

The nonprofit had vowed to continue to advocate for Merced renters after the Just Cause for Eviction ordinance was repealed by the City Council.

Late last month, the council voted 4-3 to repeal it, and this week it reaffirmed that decision during a second reading. All ordinances take two readings before being enacted or repealed.

Mayor Stan Thurston and Council members Mike Murphy, Tony Dossetti and Josh Pedrozo voted in favor of the repeal in May, while Bill Blake, Mary-Michal Rawling and Noah Lor voted against it.

The ordinance, which was passed late last year, was brought back to the table after a majority of council members voted to reconsider it.

It had faced heavy opposition from real estate professionals who saw it as an affront to private property rights, but it had equally strong support from those who feared being forced from their homes.

"We firmly believe that the City Council made a decision catering to a special-interest real estate industry, and that their decision is not what the majority of Merced residents want," said Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together.

"Once we get the signatures and turn them in, it goes back to the City Council," Preston said.

The council members can confirm the repeal or reverse themselves, Preston said. "If they vote the same way again, the matter is submitted to the voters."

If the council affirms the repeal and lets it go to the voters on the November ballot, the ordinance would remain in effect, Preston said.

He said the referendum would give Merced residents an opportunity to override "a bad City Council decision."

The law spells out specific circumstances in which eviction is permitted, such as when a tenant fails to pay rent or if the owner wants to move into the property. Foreclosure isn't recognized as a reason for evicting tenants under the law.

Thurston, who previously had said he felt that the ordinance was "unnecessary," said that if the organization gets 2,900 signatures, the council has two choices: to repeal the repeal or put it on the ballot.

"It's their right to do that," he said. "We'd have to choose one of them (the alternatives)."

He said the ordinance makes the homes with tenants living in them less likely to be sold and renovated, and returned back to the market.

Thurston added that if the council does choose to put the issue on the ballot, it will cost taxpayers a hefty sum -- about $50,000 to $60,000.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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