Sen. Bernie Sanders endorses 2 California ballot measures, including rent control expansion

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who remains popular in California after winning the state’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary, on Wednesday announced he is throwing his support behind two ballot measures related to rent control and restrictions on oil drilling.

“Landlords should not be allowed to raise rents to whatever they want, whenever they want. Big Oil should not be allowed to make record profits while drilling near neighborhoods, daycare centers, and schools and endangering people’s health. In California and across the country, all of our people deserve a safe and decent place to live,” Sanders said.

The longtime Vermont politician’s endorsements come after he stayed on the sideline in the recent U.S. Senate primary that featured three prominent Democrats, including Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee, a close ideological compatriot. Rep. Adam B. Schiff topped the field of Democrats and in November will face off against Republican former Dodger all-star Steve Garvey.

The housing ballot measure comes from a coalition of housing advocates led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The measure will ask voters to repeal a major restriction on rent control, in effect allowing more cities and counties across the state to cap rents on more types of homes.

In 2018 and 2020, the same groups backed efforts to pass similar ballot measures. In both instances, nearly all the funding for the initiative came from the Los Angeles nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which put about $60 million into the losing efforts. Both efforts to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2018 and 2020 after $100-million-plus campaigns in which landlord groups outspent supporters of the initiative by more than 2 to 1.

One of the biggest opponents of the last two efforts was the California Apartment Assn., which is gearing up to oppose this latest proposition as well. The Los Angeles nonprofit has long been aligned with Sanders and his wife, Jane — who both have done events for the group and backed other ballot measures the group has organized related to drug pricing.

The foundation has been criticized in recent years for substandard conditions in a collections of downtown adjacent apartments it has bought. A Times investigation last fall found that many of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s more than 1,300 residents live in squalid conditions, with dozens under the threat of eviction.

The foundation defended its practices, saying it had spent millions to rehabilitate the buildings and had helped bring thousands of vulnerable people off the streets.

Earlier this week, former state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and 2026 gubernatorial contender and Assembly Appropriations Chair Buffy Wicks came out against the ballot measure, telling Politico that the changes to the law could be used to subvert the state’s suite of new pro-housing laws.

“Conspiring with wealthy cities to undermine vital state housing laws is bad enough,” Atkins told Politico.

Sanders is also backing a measure to ban new oil drilling in neighborhoods. California passed a law in 2022 banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and hospitals, but its implementation has been delayed after the oil industry placed a referendum on the November ballot to overturn it.

The Sanders-backed measure is nearly identical to the 2022 law.

“At a time when working people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, they should not have to worry about protecting their families from exposure to toxic chemicals. Voters need to take on Big Oil and support this important initiative to protect homeowners and renters’ health and well-being,” said Sanders.

Along with the two ballot measures, the Vermont independent is supporting Jovanka Beckles’ bid for the state Senate. Beckles is a long-time East Bay Politician who previously served on the Richmond City Council and unsuccessfully ran for state Assembly in 2018 with Sanders’ backing.

“No one will fight harder or more diligently for the people of the East Bay than Jovanka Beckles,” Sanders said in a statement. “This moment requires bold, progressive leadership. Jovanka knows the struggles of working people and will be an effective, unwavering fighter for them in the state Senate.”

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