Recently there have been two letters to the editor published in the Daily Press which bemoaned rent control. One was from Helen McRoskey, a Santa Monica resident who apparently is not terribly fond of me, and the other from Arthur Schaper from Torrance, Calif., who has frequently e-mailed with long-winded rebuttals to my columns. Clearly, “Artie,” as I‚Äôve come to call him, has a lot of free time.
Since this April marked the 34th anniversary of rent control, I thought I‚Äôd respond to both letters, but first a bit of history on the subject. I consider myself qualified if for no other reason than I‚Äôve lived long enough to have seen it.
When I moved here in 1975, Ocean Park was not exactly “high end.” The Shores was built in 1966 as part of an urban renewal project. Thankfully, the area didn‚Äôt become another Miami Beach as hoped by developers, but the point is “renewal” didn‚Äôt catch on. Until later.
Around 1977, Santa Monica suddenly became the “in place” to live on the Westside. Whereas there had been 150 vacancies at The Shores, now we were full. But, thanks to supply and demand, rents began to go up. And up. And up.
It wasn‚Äôt uncommon to receive $50 to $100 rent hikes. It seemed like every time I went to the mailbox waiting for me was another rent increase with no end in sight. It was a nightmare for residents, especially the elderly and those with low incomes.
Tenant advocates organized and in June of 1978 rent control was on the ballot. So was Proposition 13, whose backers promised tenants that landlords would pass on property tax savings. (And if we bought that they had a bridge they wanted to sell.)
Rent control failed, but Prop. 13 was victorious. However, instead of savings for tenants rents went up faster than before, followed by hundreds of evictions and even buildings being demolished. Betrayed, tenant advocates hurriedly got rent control qualified for the next ballot.
On April 10, 1979 rent control passed with base rents being rolled back to 1978 to counteract the recent gouging. On election night I happened to be working as a security guard at The Shores and clearly remember my ears ringing after I answered one particular phone call.
It was Larry Kates, The Shores‚Äô controversial co-owner, who was screaming so loudly that I had to hold the receiver away from my ear. Even with the phone on the desk, I could hear his every word.
Furious at the election, Kates‚Äô vowed that he‚Äôd “level The Shores and turn the buildings into parking lots.” (Fortunately he didn‚Äôt or I might be writing this from a stretch of asphalt.) All of this brings me full circle back to Helen‚Äôs and Artie‚Äôs letters to the editor.
Apparently Helen was miffed by my April 5 column entitled “On location, on location, on location,” in which I complained about Santa Monica frequently being a back lot for Hollywood production companies. Maybe “miffed” was an understatement. Helen began the letter by calling me a “laughing hyena,” and, frankly, that was the nicest part.
Helen went on to call me, “A greedy, rent-controlled tenant living on someone else‚Äôs dime.” (Yes, Helen, but how do you really feel?) Actually, while it‚Äôs much less than market rates would have been, in 38 years I‚Äôve paid approximately $350,000 ¬†in rent.
Helen implied that if I were paying fair market rates I‚Äôd have a right to complain about noisy trucks rolling in at 6 a.m. and unloading and the production company taking up the lobby, the parking lot and north-facing tenants not allowed to use their balconies all day. But, as a rent-controlled tenant, I should shut up.
As absurd as Helen‚Äôs attack is (relax, Helen, at least I‚Äôm not calling you a hyena), Artie‚Äôs takes the cake. One of his reasons for abolishing rent control is that “Whitey” Bulger, the infamous former fugitive and alleged multiple murderer (19 counts) now in custody in Boston, when arrested was living in a Santa Monica rent-control unit! (Case closed.)
Following Artie‚Äôs logic, the FBI‚Äôs most wanted list is likely filled with mobsters living in rent-controlled units. (If somehow Whitey gets off and reads what Artie wrote it might be 20 counts.)
Artie is a self-proclaimed conservative blogger who theorizes that since he and I both love the TV show “Seinfeld,” off the air in 1998, maybe we can resolve our political differences. While it‚Äôs a sweet thought, 75 million people watched the “Seinfeld” finale. So, Artie, the fact that you and I like the show, isn‚Äôt necessarily the basis for a political kumbaya.
On the other hand, I suppose I should be grateful that Helen and Artie used letters to the editor to vent their displeasure. It sure beats the ear-ringing of a screaming phone call.
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org