This op-ed I authored in March of 2008 explains the importance of strong rent control to everyone, not just renters, in Santa Monica.  When property owners and developers backed an initiative on the June 2008 ballot to end rent control, they disguised it as “eminent domain reform” and tried to slip it by voters. Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights was a vital part of a statewide coalition that defeated Prop. 98. If you helped, if you voted, thank you!

Santa Monica

Councilmember Kevin McKeown



by Santa Monica Councilmember Kevin McKeown

What would Santa Monica be like... without rent control?  We may find out:  Prop 98, a state initiative on the June primary ballot, would end rent control and other protections for California tenants.

Clearly Santa Monica renters should be gearing up to defeat Prop 98, but shouldn’t we all?  Housing stability through rent control has benefited our entire community.  Some 70% of households here rent, including seniors, working families, and middle-class tenants whose affordable long-term housing has made possible their sustained civic engagement in making Santa Monica a better place.

Take for example a triumph just last month for Santa Monica’s kids, the successful passage of a much-needed school funding measure by a broad-based coalition of community volunteers.  Opponents, who apparently had no substantive arguments against schools, dismissed the effort as “rent control politics,” “another SMRR scheme.”

What exactly is SMRR?  Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights formed thirty years ago in response to spiraling rents and real estate speculation, which put tenants at risk particularly seniors — and threatened the neighborhood character and quality of life in Santa Monica.  SMRR immediately had a sweeping impact, winning the city’s Rent Control and Eviction Protection Law, which voters adopted in 1979.

Over the years, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights has grown steadily to include homeowners as well as tenants, becoming, in effect, Santa Monicans for Residents’ Rights.  SMRR’s platform has broadened to include commitments to education, the environment, neighborhood preservation, the arts, and a broad range of services for seniors and other residents.  All this evolved from the grassroots — SMRR’s platform was elaborated and refined by SMRR’s own membership, in open, democratic meetings.  SMRR election endorsements, likewise, are determined by membership vote at biennial conventions.

How has such organizational vitality been sustained for three decades?  Perhaps the long-lasting strength and appeal of SMRR is due to its participatory democratic structure, and its comprehensive pro-resident platform, all made possible by the very rent control that Prop 98 would end forever.  The result has been a powerful and effective voice for residents.

SMRR is a leading member of the coalition for our schools.  It was SMRR-majority City Councils who began the unprecedented tradition of direct city funding of public education, greatly increasing that funding over time. Whether you’re a renter or not, when it comes to your kids, SMRR is on your side.

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Santa Monica is recognized globally as a leader in environmental and sustainability matters, and that too is largely thanks to stable, long-term renters’ ability to contribute consistent effort to community projects.  SMRR-supported Councilmembers going back 25 years or more have been the consistent champions of recycling, farmers’ markets, cleaning up Santa Monica Bay, green building standards, and shifting the City’s vehicle fleet to electricity and alternative fuels.  Our current Solar Santa Monica and Sustainability Plans likely would never have been conceived and adopted without the involvement of civically engaged, committed renters who are secure in their homes and have taken on the responsibilities of stakeholders in our community.

As traffic and congestion have strangled the Westside, including Santa Monica, development issues have risen to the top of resident concerns.  The last huge spurt in commercial construction permits happened in the late 80s, during the one brief period when SMRR lacked a majority on the City Council.


SMRR is a big-tent organization whose members hold varied views on growth, but the SMRR platform states unequivocally, “SMRR opposes increasing commercial heights and densities in any commercial district in Santa Monica.”  That SMRR position was approved by a near-unanimous membership majority, as the organization’s platform for SMRR-supported elected officials.

Prop 98 forces us to confront grim prospects: what if Santa Monica renters no longer had secure housing, and no longer could consider Santa Monica their long-time home?  What if those 70% of our residents stopped contributing their efforts and expertise to making this a better city?  A few property-rights hardliners might celebrate Prop 98’s ending rent control, but would most of us be better off in a city without affordable rents?

Prop 98 would not only kill rent control; it additionally would outlaw local affordable-housing requirements, and jeopardize laws that protect seniors and disabled persons from sudden evictions.  Prop 98 also would seriously weaken environmental law.  That’s why the National Resources Defense Council, based in Santa Monica, along with every other major environmental group in the state, has joined the League of California Cities and others to defeat Prop 98.  So have the American Association of Retired People, the California Teachers Association and the League of Women Voters of California.

The Santa Monica we know and love will be just a memory if Prop 98 passes.  Spread the word.  Help us work to defeat Prop 98 on the June ballot.  Protect your neighbors, protect the environment, protect Santa Monica:  Vote NO on Prop 98.