One of the tactics Santa Ana Councilmember Thai Viet Phan is using to oppose the attempt to recall her from the council is claiming she’s the victim of “greedy corporate landlords.”
The irony is that when Phan was running for city council in 2020, she worked hard to gain the support and financial backing of the same “greedy corporate landlords” she now loudly denounces.
The policy backdrop here is rent control. Apartment owners are naturally opposed to rent control in general, and in particular to the rent control ordinance adopted by the Santa Ana City Council in October 2021 on a 4-3 vote.
While Thai Phan voted for the rent control ordinance – the most stringent in California – only a year before she did her best to convince “greedy corporate landlords” that she opposed rent control in the hope they would contribute to her council campaign.
Phan answered “Yes” when asked by the California Apartment Association CAA) if she felt “current state and local laws provide adequate protection to both landlords and tenants?”
Phan told the CAA that she opposed rent control and opposed Prop. 10, the failed 2018 initiative that would have allowed local governments to impose harsh rent control measures.
Based on her responses, the California Apartment Association contributed $1,000 to Phan’s council campaign.
When completing the Pacific West Association of Realtors’ candidate questionnaire, Phan was unequivocal in her opposition to rent control:
“Rent control is an ineffective way of addressing housing affordability, especially if aggressive development and building is not a priority first. Although some advocates have fought to put rent control on the ballot, all such attempts have failed. Housing affordability is better addressed via housing supply rather than artificial caps on the market.”
Phan was also critical of new local “Just Cause Eviction” ordinances:
“AB 1482 already has just cause eviction requirements for landlords and tenants who have demonstrated a reliable payment history. However, as a property owner, a person should be able to control the use of said property and the amount that may be charged for such a rental.”
A little more than a year later, Phan did a complete 180 and supported the most aggressive rent control and “just cause eviction” ordinances in the state.
Now, Phan finds herself at the business end of a recall campaign and is trying to cast apartment owners as villains (although there’s no evidence yet of apartment owner groups providing support for the recalls against Phan and fellow Councilmember Jessie Lopez).
Hypocrisy goes with the territory when it comes to politics and elections. But there’s a particularly pungent species of hypocrisy at work here.
It’s not as if Phan has made a political career of fighting against “greedy corporate landlords.” Indeed, as we have demonstrated, she eagerly courted the financial support of those she now denounces. She accepted a $1,000 campaign check from the California Apartment Association.
If Phan finds “greedy corporate landlords” so repugnant, why doesn’t she return the contribution?
A flip-flop as drastic as the one Phan executed on rent control reeks of political opportunism. Rent control is about property rights. It is a matter of first principles. To be sure, politicians are entitled to change their minds when presented with new evidence. But Ms. Phan did not just fall off the turnip truck. She’s an intelligent, highly-educated person who, in full command of the facts, articulated a position against rent control in hopes of securing the campaign support of anti-rent control groups.
Year later, after her election, Phan voted in opposition to her own arguments. A policy switch that dramatic usually takes place in degrees, over a long period of time and reflection – not in a matter of months.
If the recall qualifies for the ballot, Santa Ana voters will render their own judgment on the wisdom or folly of removing Phan from the city council. However, her rhetorical attacks against “greedy corporate landlords” only serve to highlight her rent control hypocrisy.