Bauer, Davis Won’t Seek Reelection to Rent Board : Santa Monica: They are arguably two of the biggest proponents of controls. But in recent years they have been at odds with renters’ rights organization.
Santa Monica Rent Control Board Chairwoman Susan Packer Davis and Commissioner Wayne Bauer, arguably the two most vocal proponents of rent control, announced last week that they will not seek reelection in November.
A third commissioner, Eileen Lipson, has not formally announced her plans, but sources say Lipson has said privately that she will not run again. Lipson could not be reached for comment.
If Lipson does not run, three of the four seats up for election would be without incumbents. The fourth seat is held by recently appointed Commissioner Jay Johnson, who says he will run for the post. The remaining commissioner is Dolores Press, whose term expires in 1992.
The three open seats are unlikely, however, to open the doors for a pro-landlord takeover.
Instead, the situation probably will allow Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, a tenants group that successfully fought for rent control in 1979, to regain control of the board.
Bauer and Davis, who in 1986 were elected as SMRR-backed candidates, have in recent years been on the opposite side of issues from the group, saying it was more interested in politics than in preserving low-cost housing for the poor.
SMRR opposed a plan proposed by Bauer and Davis last year that allows landlords to raise rents significantly on some units, if an equal number of units are set aside for low-income tenants. When SMRR recently proposed changes in the rent control ordinance to allow landlords some increases and pass-through costs for improvements, Bauer and Davis denounced the proposals.
If both had run in the November election, they surely would have faced candidates backed by the well-financed SMRR.
“It would have been very difficult for them to win without the SMRR endorsement, and I don’t think they would have gotten it,” said Brad Jones, co-chairman of SMRR.
Even landlords concede that SMRR-backed candidates are likely to be elected this fall.
“I see no chance for anybody to be elected to that board who would be more neutral, simply because everyone who has been elected in the last 11 years has been cleared by SMRR,” said John Rodriguez, president of Action, a local landlords group.
Carl Lambert, an attorney and landlord, put it more concisely: “The rent control board will always be pro-tenants.”
Jones said it is too early to discuss possible candidates for the board.
The announcements by Bauer and Davis did not come as a total surprise. There was some question about their eligibility for reelection because of a two-term limit imposed by the city Charter. Both had been appointed to complete unexpired terms of other commissioners and had been elected to another term and could have argued that they had not served two full terms.
But Bauer and Davis said they decided not to run to abide by the spirit of the law. Bauer has served since being appointed in 1983. He was elected to a full term in 1986. Davis was appointed in 1981 and served until 1984, then stepped down. She was elected in 1986.
Rent board administrator Mary Ann Yurkonis had asked the city attorney to issue an opinion on their eligibility to run again, as well as Lipson’s. Lipson was appointed to complete a term in 1984 and was elected to a full four-year term in 1986.
City Atty. Robert M. Myers said that with the decision by Bauer and Davis not to run, his office will render a decision only on Lipson. He did not say when that opinion would be issued.
Bauer, who is scheduled to graduate from law school this summer, said he is likely to retire from elected public service when he gets off the board in November.
“I did the best I could,” he said of his often-controversial seven years on the board. “That’s not to say that if I could do things over again I wouldn’t do some things differently. But I don’t see myself as a public official again, although I do see myself playing a role politically for those things I believe in.”
Davis said one factor in her decision not to seek reelection was her frustration with state intervention in local rent control, particularly the 1986 state Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants and get out of the rental business.
“A lot of our power was stripped by the state,” she said. “I did not want to be presiding over something that is not quite alive.”
Press, who after the November election could be the only commissioner with more than a year of experience, said that if nothing else, Bauer and Davis were committed.
Bauer and Davis caused a stir last December when they began to remain seated and bowed their heads in silence rather than salute the flag at the beginning of each board meeting to protest U.S. involvement in El Salvador and the killing of six Jesuit priests there.
Many landlords, including some veterans, called the protest inappropriate and demanded their resignation.
“Although we disagreed on some occasions, I have never doubted their sincerity or purpose,” Press said. “Susan and Wayne have both fulfilled their responsibilities to the people of Santa Monica with great passion and commitment.”
Johnson added: “They are probably the most committed in the city to protecting low-income tenants.”