Tracy La, a professional political activist and rent control advocate, has been appointed by the city’s controversial Rental Housing Board – filling one of two “at-large” positions set aside for Santa Ana residents who are neither tenants or landlords and would presumably bring an unbiased perspective to landlord-tenant issues.
La, 28, was appointed by Councilmember Jessie Lopez and is a Lopez campaign supporter and donor.
The Rental Housing Board is part of the rent control regime imposed by the progressive majority that took control of the Santa Ana City Council following the 2020 elections. It has the power to veto rent increases or even reduce rents in response to tenant petitions. It consists of 7 members appointed by city councilmembers:
- 3 tenant members (including one mobile home tenant)
- 2 rental housing owners
- 2 “at-large” members who are neither tenants nor have ownership interest in rental housing.
The presumed purpose of the at-large seats is so at least two members of the Rental Housing Board can render decisions free of bias or interest in either side of the rent control issue. The appointment of La flies in the face of that presumption.
The Rental Housing Board figures prominently in a lawsuit by the Apartment Association of Orange County’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the rent control ordinances. Among other things, the lawsuit contends the composition of the Rental Housing Board abridges the 14th Amendment due process rights of rental housing owners.
“The Rental Housing Board is by design imbalanced in favor of tenants and tenant interests. At any given time, at least five of the voting Board Members are inclined to either be actively opposed to, or indifferent to, property owner interests, while there will only ever be at most two Board Members that represent property owner interests, ” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit contends the two at-large members “are likely to be at the very least indifferent to, if not actively opposed to, property owner interests, establishes a probability of unfairness that runs afoul of due process principles,” the lawsuit states.
The appointment of La, a rent control advocate whose antagonism toward landlords is a matter of public record, validates the AAOC’s fears.
Lopez’s appointment of an advocate with powerful biases to a powerful, quasi-judicial body has raised concerns among long-time Santa Ana civic activists.
“I thought the at-large spots were supposed to be impartial individuals that don’t have an interest one way or the other so it seems they have just gone against what they told everyone,” observed Cynthia Contreras, a former member of the Santa Ana Planning Commission.
La is the executive director of VietRise, a radical social justice group founded in 2018. VietRise has been active in Santa Ana for the last few years, advocating for causes such as strict rent control and allowing non-citizens to vote in city elections.
La and VietRise make no secret of their conviction that rent control is “pro-working people” necessary to protect them from predatory landlords. Here are two of many examples:
In November 8, 2022 tweet, La clearly identifies herself as a political opponent of rental housing owners and as being on the side of “working people” and rent control:
La’s group VietRise lobbied the Santa Ana City Council to create a Rental Housing Board that was even more heavily tilted against the property rights of landlords:
Given La’s active participation in the political effort to enact rent control in Santa Ana and for the creation of a Rental Housing Board that is biased against rental housing owners, no landlord will have any expectation that she will provide the fair and unbiased decision making that due process demands.
By appointing La to the Rental Housing Board, Councilmember Lopez would seem to have handed the AAOC potent ammunition for its legal campaign to have the rent control ordinance thrown out.