As we all know, the Barons of Big Real Estate — billionaires Stephen Schwarzman and Sam Zell, millionaires Tim Naughton and Dallas Tanner, to name a few — are pumping millions into campaign committees that want to stop Proposition 21. But who are the other real estate power players that want to keep a broken status quo of unfair rents, increasing homelessness, and worsening housing affordability?
First, let’s talk about Proposition 21. It’s a statewide ballot measure that finally puts sensible limits on unfair rent increases. It reins in corporate landlord greed that’s been fueling the housing affordability crisis for years, and urgently keeps people in their homes. That’s especially important now with middle- and working-class renters getting slammed by the financial devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposition 21 has earned the endorsements of longtime fighters for fairness and justice. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta. Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Former United Nations special rapporteur on the Right to Housing Leilani Farha. Rev. Al Sharpton. Los Angeles Tenants Union. AIDS Healthcare Foundation. UNITE HERE! Local 11. And the list goes on.
Match that up with the opponents of Prop 21. They are Big Real Estate companies that have never been known to fight for hard-working Californians. In fact, it’s been the opposite: they’ve done everything they can to line their own pockets at the expense of middle- and working-class residents.
We’re talking about Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities, Prometheus Real Estate Group, UDR, and Invitation Homes. They’ve spent millions to oppose Prop 21, but they aren’t the only ones shelling out big cash.
What’s becoming clearer by the day is that a growing network of corporate landlords, lobbying groups, and political committees are working together, behind the scenes, to stop Prop 21. They are desperate to protect their billions in profits — made off the backs of California renters.
Take Carmel Partners, led by CEO Ron Zeff (pictured above). The real estate company, based in San Francisco, has forked over $365,000 to stop Prop 21. Carmel Partners has been entangled in the federal corruption probe of L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, who effectively sold land-use approvals to developers as chair of the powerful Planning and Land Use Committee.
The Real Deal reported: “Carmel Partners is linked to giving $125,000 to Huizar, and volunteering to provide opposition research on ‘two young female former Huizar staffers who had filed sexual harassment lawsuits against Huizar,’ the [federal] affidavit reads.” Ugly stuff.
There’s Palos Verdes Estates landlord Gerald Marcil. He’s delivered more than $115,000 to a No on 21 committee under the names of his various limited partnerships, such as Azul Apartments LP and Vio Cerritos Investment LP. Marcil has contributed more than $20,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. A telling fact about his values and beliefs, which are not held by a vast majority of Californians.
And there’s Palo Alto landlord Tod Spieker, who’s forked over $464,748 to two No on 21 committees. He’s consistently funded efforts to put limits on unfair rents, including California’s Prop 10 in 2018 and San Mateo’s Measure Q in 2016. Spieker is also known to use aggressive tactics to beef up profits. In 2015, he bought an 85-unit apartment complex in Redwood City. Soon after, tenants were given eviction notices so he could jack up the rent.
There are many more Big Real Estate firms trying to stop Prop 21. Interstate Equities Corporation, led by co-presidents Julia Boyd Corso and Marshall Boyd ($164,850 to No on 21); Woodmont Real Estate Services, led by CEO Ron Granville ($346,200); Lennar Homes of California, led by executive chairman Stuart Miller ($300,000); Sares Regis Group, led by managing director Chris Payne ($519,300); Holland Development, led by CEO Clyde Holland ($730,000); and dozens of others.
We can’t forget the California Apartment Association, led by CEO Tom Bannon and Board President Barry Altshuler, a vice president at Equity Residential.
The CAA, a landlord lobbying powerhouse, is sponsoring the main No on 21 campaign: Californians for Responsible Housing. That’s led by an executive committee that includes Bannon, Altshuler, Spieker, Essex Property Trust executive John Eudy, Prometheus Real Estate Group executive John Millham, AvalonBay Communities executive Sean Breslin, and National Multifamily Housing Council vice president Jim Lapides. They’re all movers and shakers within Big Real Estate, and the CAA-sponsored committee has so far raised a whopping $30.4 million.
These are the people that want to defeat Prop 21 — and they’ll do anything to make that happen. It’s why supporters of Prop 21 expect them to try to confuse and scare voters any way possible. For the Barons of Big Real Estate, too much money is on the line.
Patrick Range McDonald is an award-winning reporter and advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.