The 2016 Measure KK enabled the Bay Area Community Land Trust to buy and renovate this 12th Avenue affordable housing cooperative. Voters may be asked to approve a new, larger housing and infrastructure bond measure in November. Credit: Amir Aziz

Update, July 12: The Oakland City Council voted to place both the $850 million infrastructure bond measure and the expansion of the “just cause” eviction policy on the November ballot.

If passed, the bond measure would support affordable housing, city facilities, and street paving, through a property tax rate of $71 per $100,000 in assessed value. The eviction measure was significantly scaled back from the initial proposal, now exempting new housing from the tenant protections for the first 10 years after it’s built.

Original story, July 6: At a marathon City Council meeting Tuesday, Oakland officials debated two potential housing-related ballot measures for the November election, including an expansion of eviction protections and an affordable housing bond.

The housing measures are among a number of questions that could be posed to Oakland voters in the fall, including whether to limit councilmembers’ terms, whether to give residents “democracy dollars” to donate to political campaigns, and whether to redirect cannabis tax dollars to communities harmed by the war on drugs. The council is expected to make a final decision on all the ballot measures at a meeting on Monday. 

Only a controversial measure on the financing of Howard Terminal was voted on at Tuesday’s meeting; the council rejected it.

Eviction protections for new buildings, RVs, families

The eviction measure would expand Oakland’s “just cause” protections to most rental properties in the city. Currently, the eviction protections apply only to buildings constructed before 1996.

“Most cities in California that have just-cause protections don’t have any exemption for new construction,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb, the sponsor of the proposed measure along with Councilmember Carroll Fife. “We’re trying to catch up. If someone is a renter and paying the rent, they should have the same tenant protections as anyone else.”

The just cause ordinance is often confused with Oakland’s rent control law. While both are tenant protection policies, they are separate ordinances and apply to different types of housing.

Oakland’s just cause policy requires landlords to have a specific reason (a “cause”) for kicking out a tenant. There are 11 eligible reasons, ranging from the tenant not paying rent or using the apartment for illegal activities, to the owner deciding to move into the unit. The new proposal would eliminate one of the just causes, which currently says a tenant can be evicted for refusing to sign an identical lease when the old one expires.

If placed on the ballot and passed, the policy would also make it illegal to pursue a “no fault” eviction of an educator or children during the school year. That means the tenants could still be evicted at any time for their own actions, like skipping rent payments or damaging the property, but owner move-in evictions and others that are not the renters’ fault would need to wait until summer break.

The proposal would also give legal RV dwellers eviction protections. A policy passed last year allows private property owners to rent to people living in homes on wheels.

The proposed update to the city’s just cause law leaves out ADUs (backyard cottages and similar accessory units) for the first 10 years after they’re built. Kalb said the idea of giving landlords more power to remove tenants from ADUs came from discussions with property owners who said they’d be less likely to build cottages if they were immediately covered by the eviction law. Oakland and the state have tried to encourage ADU construction in recent years, since it’s a relatively cheap and easy way to add to the city’s housing stock.

Numerous members of the public who called into the 13-hour council meeting spoke on the just cause item. Many tenants and advocates praised the proposal, including ACCE lawyer Jackie Zaneri, who said it would “take away a big harassment tool” from landlords. 

Several rental property owners criticized the measure, including one who accused the council of “over-regulation.” There is currently a COVID-19 moratorium on almost all evictions in effect, though the policy will eventually be lifted.

Councilmember Loren Taylor echoed some landlords who said the just cause proposal was “rushed through” without enough analysis of potential impacts on housing construction in Oakland, or on the RV rental system.

The council voted to postpone the final decision about whether or not to place the measure on the ballot until Monday’s special meeting.

Fife said she hoped her colleagues would ultimately support it. “As someone who’s experienced illegal, no-cause evictions while having a toddler in the home, it creates a level of insecurity—I can’t describe the stress,” she said.

$850 million bond measure for housing, transportation

Another potential ballot measure could raise $850 million for affordable housing, transportation infrastructure, and city facilities. 

The revenue from the general obligation bond would help the city chip away at a whopping $6.5 billion in capital improvement needs, according to staff.

Oakland finance staffer Brittany Hines called the measure’s $350 million allocation for affordable housing “historic,” saying it’s the “largest sum in one allocation in Oakland’s history” and would put the city in a strong position to receive state grant money. The measure would continue the work started with the 2016 $600 million bond Measure KK

Staff said a survey conducted around the measure found that residents are wary of increased taxes that could be necessary to pay back bond debt. On Tuesday the council passed a new bond policy the city hopes will assuage those concerns. The policy sets a goal of maintaining a consistent property tax rate, by waiting to issue new bonds until old bonds are retired, or until the taxpayer population grows. 

The housing infrastructure measure decision was also pushed to the upcoming Monday meeting, although this one is less contentious than the eviction measure. Officials signaled their support, with some asking for explicit language to be added to the measure that would require spending revenue on street paving and traffic safety.

A third housing-related ballot measure proposal was pulled from the agenda at the start of Tuesday’s meeting. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s proposal would have applied the city’s vacation rental tax to longer-term stays of 31 to 90 days in addition to standard, shorter visits. Kaplan did not respond to a question about why she withdrew the item.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.