“Cities across the Bay Area, including Richmond, Alameda, Santa Rosa, and San Mateo, reported landlord lobbyist smear campaigns with misinformation. … Now we have a confirmed criminal case of fraud from Pacifica….”
Pacifica, CA–The San Mateo County District Attorney has filed multiple felony charges against referendum petition signature gatherers hired by the California Apartment Association (CAA). The CAA referendum overturned a temporary law passed by the Pacifica City Council that would have protected tenants from exorbitant rent increases and unjust evictions in the months leading up to the November 2017 vote on rent control. Fair Rents 4 Pacifica, a local all-volunteer community organization, filed a complaint with the District Attorney alleging that signature gatherers were misrepresenting the referendum to gain signatures.
The District Attorney filed twenty-one felony charges against two paid signature-gatherers, who were hired as part of the industry-backed referendum campaign. According to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe in an interview by the Pacifica Tribune, the pair faked at least 20 signatures, signing voters’ names and addresses without their consent. The felony charges include several counts of elections fraud, perjury, and identity theft.
In May 2017, the referendum campaign backed by the CAA and San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR) narrowly repealed temporary tenant protections by a margin of only 63 signatures. Fair Rents 4 Pacifica gathered evidence that at least 66 Pacifica voters sought to remove their signatures, nearly all claiming that they had been misled. The District Attorney’s investigation uncovered even more egregious misconduct including the fraudulent collection of at least 20 additional signatures. The misrepresentations and fraud paid for by the CAA kept tenants in Pacifica vulnerable to rent hikes and unfair evictions for months while voters waited to weigh in on the rent control ballot measure in November. Fair Rents 4 Pacifica received reports of tenants who faced rent hikes of $600 or more, forcing many residents out of their homes.
“This prosecution should serve as a wake-up call for the California Apartment Association, San Mateo County Association of Realtors, and others who campaign on lies to smear tenants and rent control. Fraud is fraud, and it can land you in jail,” said Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s Statewide Organization for Renters’ Rights.
“Cities across the Bay Area, including Richmond, Alameda, Santa Rosa, and San Mateo, reported landlord lobbyist smear campaigns with misinformation. We are seeing a disturbing pattern. Techniques of fear-mongering, outright lies, and voter intimidation undermine the obvious fairness of tenant protections. Now we have a confirmed criminal case of fraud from Pacifica, where signature gatherers were paid by a campaign sponsored by the California Apartment Association,” says Suzanne Moore, a member of Pacifica Housing 4 All. “The Democratic process in our small community was corrupted by a half-million dollars of outside realty monies and a fraudulent petition drive. Pacifica families have been financially harmed and displaced through their efforts.”