Commentary: Renter protections are needed in Petaluma, Sonoma County

A Just Cause ordinance is about controlling arbitrary evictions to the greatest extent allowed under California law.|

Tenants are in crisis. More and more tenants are at risk of eviction as rents continue to skyrocket in Petaluma. This isn’t the first time our city council has heard our pleas to add a Just Cause ordinance on the agenda. Council member D’Lynda Fischer, Vice Mayor Dennis Pocekay and Mayor Teresa Barrett, who ran for election in 2018, all said they would a support a Just Cause ordinance. It’s 2022 and Petaluma has no protections if a landlord evicts to remove property from the rental market and re-rents to new tenant at a higher price. A Just Cause ordinance is about controlling arbitrary evictions to the greatest extent allowed under California law.

Here is some quantifiable evidence from Sonoma County’s Housing Report, Legal Aid of Sonoma County and the Portrait of Sonoma:

- Petaluma has the highest median rent in Sonoma County: $2,527 for 1- to 2-bedroom unit.

- 18.2% of households in Petaluma live in neighborhoods that are susceptible to or experiencing displacement.

- 14.5% is how much the cost of rents rose last year alone, despite AB1482 rent caps and anti-price gouging statutes. Tenants are at risk of being priced out without protections.

- While 52% of all renters in Sonoma County use 30% or more of their income to pay rent, that average is higher in some minority communities — 59% of Latino renters and 68% of Black renters use 30% or more of their income to pay for housing.

- Black residents represent 1.5% of Sonoma County’s total population, but 6% of the homeless population.

-Native Americans make up less than 1% of Sonoma County’s total population, but 9% of its homeless population.

Newsflash to our City Council:

Climate change Increases renters’ risks. A Just Cause ordinance can support renters in the face of climate change. Enough with the patchwork protections and landlord loopholes. How cool would it be for Petaluma to become the first city in Sonoma County to create an ordinance that ensures a tenant’s rights to housing before the county’s eviction moratorium expires? Without Just Cause protections, it will be easier for landlords to kick out tenants and flip properties for profit. Let’s keep housing for people.

Another way to support our tenants is for City Council to send a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to ask Permit Sonoma to limit new vacation rentals and adopt these five solutions as part of their vacation rental ordinance.

1. Vacation rental moratorium

This moratorium will NOT impact the nearly 2,000 vacation rentals in unincorporated Sonoma County, it will regulate them and impact the market going forward. Placing an absolute ban on vacation rentals sends a message that our county protects the local housing stock as a human right and not a commodity. It could be a misdemeanor to operate or advertise a vacation rental up to $1,000 due to health and housing crisis - like in Napa County.

2. Call it what it is: a business

3. Permanent cap

4. Permanent resident requirement

5. Allowed in commercial zones

Vacation rentals directly impact housing availability and affordability. We need homes for people. Not profit. We need your voice! Send your public comment to the Board of Supervisors before Thursday, March 17. Without you, out-of-town investors will continue to take homes from our community and market them to the wealthy.

I hope you can join and attend the State of Black Housing in Sonoma County organized by NAACP Santa Rosa- Sonoma County Chapter and Sonoma County Black Forum on March 14 for a discussion about the history of exclusionary housing practices in Sonoma County. Understand how this history is connected to reduced health outcomes and disproportionate homelessness among Black residents. Learn about regional and local initiatives to close the housing gap and create generational wealth for Black people in Sonoma County.

Racism is at the root of health and economic disparities. Inequity does not happen by accident.

Zahyra Garcia is a member of the Petaluma Ad Hoc Community Advisory Committee.

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