Go Big. Be Bold. Go Home. Eric Swalwell Ends Quixotic Campaign. 

Plus a busy week for Alameda, with rent cap and charter reform.

click to enlarge Rep. Eric Swalwell announcing the end of his quest for the presidency.

Rep. Eric Swalwell announcing the end of his quest for the presidency.

Eric Swalwell's presidential campaign began on a sound stage inside the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City and ended 91 days later in a small union hall in Dublin. After canceling two days of Fourth of July events in New Hampshire last week, on Monday afternoon Swalwell became the first of a large Democratic primary field to drop out of the race for president.

"After the first Democratic presidential debate, our polling and fundraising numbers weren't what we have hoped for, and I no longer see a path forward to the nomination," Swalwell said. "My presidential campaign ends today."

The Democratic Party's requirements for qualifying for future debates weighed heavily on Swalwell's decision to end his campaign. Swalwell made the debate stage in Miami last month solely because he gained at least 1 percent in three party-sanctioned polls. The second requirement, which would have clinched his inclusion in the debates was 65,000 individuals donors. The threshold for the next debates is now polling of two percent and 130,000 donors, and candidates must attain both requirements.

During the June 27 debate, Swalwell raised his profile by telling former vice president Joe Biden to "pass the torch" to the younger generation. But the exchange did little to bolster Swalwell's standing, he told reporters Monday, leading to his decision to pull the plug on his bid for the White House.

Polling was a constant problem throughout. Swalwell's campaign never gained more than 1 percent in any poll and often failed to register any support. He revealed that his campaign only received contributions from roughly 21,000 donors, a number far below even the requirement set for the June debates. Swalwell's presidential campaign raised about $850,000 since April, he said. A full accounting of his campaign finance reports will be available after July 15.

Any leftover proceeds from Swalwell's presidential campaign can be rolled over to his re-election campaign for the 15th Congressional District, which he confirmed Monday. Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab announced her campaign for the 15th District just days after Swalwell began his presidential campaign and indicated he would not run for his seat in Congress.

But in the three months since, Swalwell has hedged on his future strategy several times, telling reporters he had until early December to make a decision before the filing deadline for candidates in the March 2020 primary. Wahab said Monday that she is still weighing her options whether to continue her congressional campaign.

At the moment, Wahab is the only credible candidate in the congressional race. At one point, the early race also included state Sen. Bob Wieckowski. But he dropped out last May, just three weeks into his campaign. Instead, Wieckowski is running for the now-vacant seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Wieckowski's abrupt exit may have been the first hint to East Bay politicos that Swalwell's early exit from the presidential campaign would be far sooner than later.


Alameda lowers cap on annual rent increases

Alameda renters scored a major legislative victory last week when the Alameda City Council approved an ordinance that places a cap on annual rent increase. The change amounts to a reduction in annual increases from up to 5 percent under a previous ordinance to 2.8 percent for many Alameda renters, starting on Sept. 1.

The council's decision ties annual rent increases to 70 percent of the Consumer Price Index for the San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward region. The index for April pegged the figure at 4 percent, meaning Alameda landlords are allowed to raise rents by 2.8 percent for the next year.

The ordinance also allows landlords who forego some annual rent increases to "bank" them for future years. But the council, after more than an hour of debate, added restrictions to the banking of rent increases. Under the ordinance, landlords may set aside up to 8 percent worth of rent increases, but can only increase rents above the amount otherwise allowed by 3 percent during any given year, and not in consecutive years. In addition, landlords can only use banked rent increases three times during the life of tenancy. Banked increases do not carry over to the next tenant, or if the property is sold.

It is unclear how many landlords will make use of the ability to bank rent increases — essentially lowering rents — when they may now view their ability to raise annual rents as being diminished by almost half.

The vote represents a partial validation of an ill-fated ballot measure backed by the Alameda Renters Coalition in 2016 that sought to cap rent increases to 65 percent of the Consumer Price Index.

Members of that group said they were pleased by the council's decision after more than three years of continued advocacy on behalf of island renters. "The goal has always been just to have a consistent percentage without displacing renters," said Catherine Pauling, a member of the Alameda Renters Coalition Steering Committee. "We want landlords to have a fair return on their investment and for renters to have a stable home."

Alameda's previously rent stabilization ordinance set a threshold of 5 percent on annual rent increases. The number, though, was not a rent cap. Landlords seeking to raise rents over the 5 percent threshold have been required to petition the city's Rent Review Advisory Committee. However, the board's decisions are non-binding.

"Tenants have put up with 5 percent increases for four years and that been a heavy burden," said William Rowen, an Alameda renter.

Tuesday's ordinance requires that a hearing officer facilitate rent disputes between landlords and tenants. The move essentially signals the end of the advisory committee. A separate ordinance will be proposed at the council's Sept. 1 meeting to officially eliminate the committee.

The ordinance will create a rent registry in order for the city to track rent increases and record when landlords bank rent increases and then subsequently cash in on them.

City staff had recommended allowing rent increases at 100 percent of the consumer price index, while renters groups pushed for 65 percent. But Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Aschraft, worried about landlords maintaining a fair rate of return on their properties, urged for at least 75 percent of CPI.

In conversations with landlords, Ashcraft said they feel under attack. "I just want us not to judge the landlords by the most egregious among them." Councilmember John Knox White joined Ashcraft by urging for a slightly greater percentage of CPI before reaching a compromise of 70 percent.

As with other rent-related discussions at City Hall in recent months, Councilmember Tony Daysog was the lone opponent of Tuesday night's proposals. After presenting three sets of charts that laid out his claim for maintaining the city's status quo, Daysog said, "The hard data confirms Ordinance 3148 is working," describing the previous rent stabilization laws by its ordinance number. "The data does not support wholesale changes."


Alameda begins work on charter reform

Despite a highly critical grand jury report last week that skewered Alameda City Hall and urged it to bolster the city charter's rules governing councilmember interference in municipal administration, Alameda officials actually have been working on the issue for more than six months.

Marilyn Ezzy Aschraft's first act as mayor in December 2018 was to form an ad-hoc committee to study potential changes to the charter. She tabbed Councilmembers Daysog and John Knox White with leading the effort. Making such changes is a painstakingly long process since they must be made through a vote of the people.

The grand jury and an independent investigation by the city into allegations that Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella interfered in the city manager's power to select a new fire chief both prescribed adding clarity to the charter's flimsy firewall between the decision-making duties granted elected officials and the city manager.

However, a pair of workshops last week hinted at some of the progress the ad-hoc committee has made in narrowing down other potential charter reforms.

Among the changes being considered is switching from at-large to district elections for councilmembers. Ranked-choice voting, the election system used by Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro also is a possibility. And Knox White's 2018 proposal to rotate the mayor's position among the five councilmembers also is on the table. The arrangement is typically seen in smaller cities like nearby Emeryville, which has a population of over 10,000. Alameda rotated its mayor prior to 1972.

A potential more inflammatory reform, at least for Alameda moderates and conservatives, is the proposed elimination of the city auditor and city treasurer as elected offices. The current holders of the office are viewed among conservatives as vocal counterweights to the firefighters union's dominance in city politics.

Some proposals, meanwhile, could avoid the travails of a ballot measure. The council could simply enact some reforms as ordinances, such as campaign ethics rules and campaign finance restrictions, the latter of which is non-existent in Alameda. Councilmembers also could increase their own pay, although the optics of elected officials giving themselves a raise are not positive, even given their extremely low current rate of pay.

Alameda's mayor has not received a pay increase since 1970 and earns an annual salary of just $3,600. By contrast, the mayor in similarly sized San Leandro earns $25,000 a year. Councilmembers have it even worse, earning $1,200 a year without a pay raise since 1977, according to the League of Women Voters. The low pay, critics fear, sidelines working people from running for offices and favors the well-to-do and retired people.


In Other News ...

A U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that a 2016 Berkeley ordinance requiring cell phone companies to warn customers their product can expose them to radiation is legal, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. ... U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ called for an independent review of a June 26 arrest by U.C. Police of two black children, Berkeleyside reported. ... A statewide measure to reform Proposition 13 is headed to the November 2020 ballot, but some county assessors believe the measure would be very hard to implement, the Chronicle reported. ... Oakland's Department of Transportation announced the selection and regulation of four e-scooter companies — Lime, Bird, Clevr, and Lyft — Bay City News reported. ...

Billionaire Bay Area environmentalist Tom Steyer entered the Democratic primary field. ... Sen. Kamala Harris's presidential campaign paid off the remaining $122,327 of its bill to the City of Oakland for its campaign kickoff event at City Hall, the  Chron reported. Meanwhile, Harris returned to Iowa with a retooled campaign message highlighting her role as a prosecutor, district attorney, and attorney general, the Washington Post reported. ... Rising ocean temperatures and a record-breaking heat wave in the Bay Area last spring led to the die-off of an estimated 70 percent of mussels in Bodega Bay, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported.

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