Activists from Moms 4 Housing shut down an Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon, demanding officials pass a package of renter protections laws.
Bringing blankets and pillows, they’d planned to occupy the board room until the supervisors pledged to vote for the tenant policies. But sheriff’s deputies ushered all but three core protesters out of the room after the meeting was halted at 5 p.m. Around 6:30 p.m., they arrested one of the activists, taking her to jail, and cited the two others, releasing them.
The board was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a number of tenant protections for the unincorporated areas of the county, like Ashland, Cherryland, and Castro Valley. The proposals, which secured an initial vote in December, include a “just cause” policy making it illegal for landlords to evict tenants without providing an eligible reason.
But the November election saw the tenant-friendly Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan lose the race for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors to former Alameda Councilmember Lena Tam, who was supported by landlord groups during the campaign. Renter groups saw the election as a threat to their goal of expanding tenant protections.
The supervisors are also considering a “fair chance” ordinance banning discrimination against tenants with criminal records, and the creation of a rent registry, a database with information on property owners and rent prices.
After vote postponed, activists occupy boardroom
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the board decided to postpone the final decision on the renter policies until Feb. 28. Shortly after that, at 1 p.m., four Moms 4 Housing activists entered the chamber, linking arms in front of the dais. They alternated between chants and statements about their personal experiences with homelessness.
“You’re letting our people be out on the street,” Sameerah Karim told the officials.
The board retreated into closed session, in a room inaccessible to the public and press, for close to four hours. The activists, along with several supporters and observers, remained in the boardroom, waiting quietly and chatting amongst themselves.
“This is a tactic they always use — postpone, postpone, and make people come back,” Dominique Walker told The Oaklandside.
Walker, who was later arrested because she did not provide identification, was one of the original Moms 4 Housing homeless mothers who occupied a vacant, investor-owned house in West Oakland in 2019. Walker now lives in an apartment in Berkeley and is an elected member of the Rent Stabilization Board there.
Sharena Thomas, another original Moms member, said she doesn’t want anyone to get evicted into homelessness and experience the horrors she did.
“A homeless kid is very vulnerable to being raped,” Thomas said. “They’re not able to study, to think straight. It’s horrible for anybody to worry, ‘Where’s Mommy gonna sleep tonight?’”
The activists said they’d remain in the board room for 60 hours — representing the 60,000 tenants they said would be covered by the proposed laws.
After the board returned from closed session around 5 p.m., the activists yelled, “This meeting is shut down!” The board adjourned, and sheriff’s deputies along with county staff steered the public out of the room, saying the building was closed. Only three Moms occupiers remained inside. Members of the press were prohibited from observing the protesters and law enforcement inside the room. Calls by The Oaklandside to the sheriff’s office were not answered.
Supporters rallied outside the room and building, until the deputies arrested and cited the occupiers around 6:30 p.m., ending their occupation.
In a press release Wednesday morning, Walker said she would “do it again.”
“If this is what it takes for folks to stay housed, then this is what it takes,” she said.
New supervisor will be deciding vote
Like the Oakland City Council, when the Board of Supervisors passes an ordinance, they have to vote twice on the legislation. The first vote is usually the only one that really matters, and the mandatory “second reading” is ceremonial, rarely changing anything.
In this case, it’s pivotal.
The makeup of the board changed after the first reading in December, with Lena Tam, who was elected to represent District 3, replacing acting supervisor Dave Brown, who was appointed following Wilma Chan’s tragic death in 2021.
Brown supported the tenant protections for the unincorporated areas, most of which passed by a 3-2 vote. Tenant activists, including Moms 4 Housing, believe that Tam, who represents part of East Oakland, along with Alameda and San Leandro, will be the deciding factor reversing the decisions on the second reading.
Tam’s campaign was backed by the real estate industry, leading many renters and activists to believe she’ll give the board of supervisors a pro-landlord majority. Throughout the campaign and after the election, Tam declined to state a clear stance on the eviction moratorium or tenant protections. Activists showed up at her office this week, too, trying to push her to support the proposals.
“It’s always some reiteration of, ‘I’m still reviewing this,’” said Maria Miranda, an organizer with My Eden Voice, a group advocating for tenant protections in unincorporated communities.
“We’ve been fighting for three years,” Miranda said. Tenants in the unincorporated areas have less access to legal and financial support available through city programs and policies, and many have been displaced to the Central Valley and other less expensive parts of the state, Miranda said.
County staffers have been working on the ordinances since 2018, holding numerous meetings with landlords and renters over the years. However, many landlords oppose the policies, saying the just-cause rules strip them of their right to decide who lives on their private property. A recent state law includes just-cause provisions across California, but it leaves out many buildings including single-family homes. The county law would include those properties.
Lingering in the hallway after they were forced out of the board room, activists supporting the Moms group confronted Tam as she headed to the elevator.
“We want to make sure they’re OK,” said an organizer about the Moms still in the room.
“We’ve been assured they’re safe,” Tam responded.
“And are you going to keep tenants safe and vote for tenant protections?” the activist asked.
“Yes,” said Tam.
“You’re going to vote for them?” asked someone else.
“I’m going to keep them safe,” Tam replied as the elevator doors shut.
Berkeley and Oakland have tenant protections
The decision on the tenant protections will not directly impact renters in Berkeley and Oakland, which have their own just-cause, rent-control, and fair-chance ordinances. Their tenant protection laws are considered some of the strongest in the country.
Last year, a series of decisions further expanded those protections in Oakland. Over the summer, the City Council banned rent increases over 3% for rent-controlled units. Then in the fall, voters extended the city’s just-cause protections to more types of renters. The council also approved the creation of a rent registry for the city, expected to go live later this year.
“We have protections in Oakland and Berkeley,” said Walker from Moms 4 Housing. “But we stand in solidarity with those who don’t. We believe all of Alameda County should be protected.”
The supervisors’ eventual vote on the tenant protections could also indicate their appetite for repealing the county’s COVID-19 emergency eviction moratorium, which prohibits landlords from kicking out tenants who haven’t paid their rent.
The board was set Tuesday to consider an item from Supervisor David Haubert asking his colleagues to revisit the moratorium, which has been in effect since March 2020. That vote was postponed until February, too.
The decision on the county moratorium could in turn influence what Oakland officials do about the city’s own moratorium.