Response to Dick Spotswood’s Opinion Column in the Marin IJ

Dick Spotswood has lowered the bar for local journalism with his December 17th, 2022 opinion piece in the Marin IJ covering Fairfax’s new rent stabilization and just cause eviction ordinances. The column is rife with sensationalist claims, arrogant remarks, and arguments made either in bad faith or ignorance, all while attempting to revive a kind of red scare McCarthyism in Marin. County residents should demand far more from its local paper of record than poorly-researched fear-mongering dressed up as reasonable journalism. 

The article begins: “​​Just when local candidates promoted by the right-leaning anti-vaccine promoting Marin Freedom Rising were crushed at the ballot box, along came the Marin chapter of the far-left Democratic Socialists of America.”

Implying a false equivalency between a conspiratorial, anti-vax, and anti-LGBTQ organization and one that is fighting to keep working people in their homes is morally reprehensible and deeply misleading. One can’t help but remember the corporate media pieces that compared democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who campaigned on healthcare for all, living wages, and a Green New Deal with Donald Trump, who campaigned on building a border wall, creating a Muslim registry, and shredding environmental regulations. The idea was that because Sanders and Trump were both challenging the political establishment with populist appeals, they somehow had a great deal in common. Comparing Marin DSA to Marin Freedom Rising is equally absurd and offensive.

The next paragraph reads: “The latter [Marin DSA] is pushing a draconian version of rent control across Marin. DSA scored its first victory when Fairfax by unanimous council vote adopted their suggested rent control ordinance and, with only Councilmember Barbara Coler dissenting, a punishing (to landlords) “just cause” eviction law.”

Characterizing Fairfax’s rent control and just cause eviction ordinances as “draconian” and “punishing” is ridiculous and quickly reveals the class sympathies of the author. In reality, Fairfax’s ordinances were modeled after provisions that already exist across the state, many of which have been in effect for decades. These ordinances bring Fairfax up to speed with the dozens of other cities and towns across California that have seen their housing costs skyrocket and have taken action to keep ordinary people in their homes, rather than getting forced out.

Let’s briefly review what these ordinances actually do:

  1. They place an annual cap on how much landlords can raise the rent, pegged to 60% of the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 5%, whichever is lower.
  2. They prevent arbitrary evictions by requiring landlords to have a just cause in order to evict or displace their tenant.
  3. They provide support and protections for tenants who face eviction due to no fault of their own, with additional protections granted to teachers, students, children, seniors, people with disabilities, and people who are terminally-ill. 

The idea that requiring such basic tenant protections amounts to punishing landlords reveals an enormous bias in favor of landlords being able to do whatever they’d like with their rental units, regardless of the suffering, stress, and insecurity that may be endured by tenants as a consequence of their actions. If critics like Spotswood want to argue that landlords’ ability to maximize profits and maintain total control over their units is more important that granting the one-third of Fairfax residents who are renters the safety and security of knowing they won’t get thrown out of their homes at a moment’s notice, they should go ahead and say so. Hiding behind sensationalist terms like, “draconian” simply avoids the moral stakes and obscures the divergent class interests at play. 

Skipping ahead, Spotswoods, referencing the radical idea that housing is a first and foremost a human right and not an investment vehicle, knowingly proclaims: “This isn’t the social democracy as practiced in Scandinavian nations. The last time I was in Norway, I asked a museum lecturer about capitalism versus socialism in his land. His reply, “Norway is a capitalist country. That’s how we pay for our (social) benefits.” Social democracy is a combination of relatively high taxes, and a broad social safety net based on private enterprise and capitalism.”

While we’re glad Spotswood took the time to ask a single Norwegian museum employee about his country’s political economy, citing this conversation as an authoritative summary of why capitalism is good and necessary for social democracy is patently absurd. The robust social benefits enjoyed in western Europe and Scandinavia were the result of decades of class struggle between organized labor and associated labor/left political parties on the one hand and economic and political elites on the other. Wealthy capitalists did not voluntarily sign up to pay high taxes for universal high-quality healthcare, education, childcare, etc. They were forced to make these concessions by a powerful labor movement and a robust political left that included both socialists and social democrats. Social democracy was the compromise hammered out between capital and labor, not an enlightened feature of capitalism itself.

It’s also important to note that the vast majority of western European countries have some form of national rent control, with countries like France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden not only limiting how much rents can be raised over time, but also limiting how much can be charged in the first place. State law prohibits those kinds of limitations in California, meaning landlords are able to charge as much as they’d like at the beginning of each new tenancy. Thus, suggesting that Fairfax’s rent control law—or any California rent control law—is somehow radical or extreme by European or international standards is simply nonsensical.

Spotswood continues, “Fairfax’s version of rent control and “just eviction” ordinances was a step too far. Why would anyone create so much as a second unit if their investment violated the nonexistent “right” of a tenant to live there indefinitely at a rent less than the cost of providing the space.”

First of all, the policy is called “just cause eviction,” not “just eviction.” Second, the hypothetical question posed here is not a relevant one. In California, landlords are guaranteed a reasonable return on their investment. Fairfax’s rent stabilization ordinance provides a mechanism for this by enabling landlords to petition for a higher annual rent increase in order to ensure that they receive a reasonable return. The claim that rent control will force landlords to rent their units at a financial loss makes no sense, as they are permitted to raise rents enough to ensure that this doesn’t happen, provided that they can document and demonstrate that they actually qualify for this provision. 

Third, the rejection of housing as a human right is truly baffling and grotesque. The United Nations codified the right to adequate housing in 1948 as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. But it shouldn’t take a UN declaration to prove what common sense already makes obvious: that housing is a basic human necessity. It provides us with shelter from the elements and a safe and secure place to rest, prepare meals, raise our families, and simply live our lives. Our housing also embeds us in our community, which we all need as inherently social creatures. In other words, we all require housing to lead decent and dignified lives. 

Do critics like Spotswood who say the right to housing is “nonexistent” actually believe otherwise? What do they believe? That the abstract demands of a mythical free market are more important than satisfying basic human needs? That profits are more important than people? We hope not, but if so, we reject this kind of reasoning utterly and entirely. As democratic socialists, we believe that our economy should work to deliver a decent standard of living for all people and that includes, fundamentally, the right to decent housing. 

Fairfax, like all of Marin County, has some of the highest housing costs in the entire country. Single-family homes routinely sell for over a million dollars (often far more) and modest one- or two-bedroom apartments can easily cost two-three thousand dollars per month. Ordinary working people and seniors on fixed incomes cannot afford a house and their wages and social security benefits are not even close to keeping up with the dramatic rent increases.

The struggle to stabilize rents and prevent displacement in Fairfax and throughout Marin is not a hypothetical one. In Fairfax, a third of renters pay more than half of their income on rent. And nearly half of all renters spend at least a third of their income paying the landlord. Working families are struggling simply to keep a roof over their heads and stay in our communities. 

Critics like Spotswood will inevitably continue to spread hysteria as Fairfax’s ordinances are fully implemented and as other cities and towns across Marin follow their lead and adopt their own laws to stabilize rents and prevent arbitrary evictions. We will not let their smears keep us from winning real housing security for Marin’s working-class renters.

The Marin DSA Coordinating Committee
– Maegan Mattock, Fairfax 
– Christopher Perrando, Fairfax
– Kyle Amsler, San Anselmo
– Curt Ries, San Anselmo
– Sonia Parecadan, San Rafael

PRESS RELEASE: Fairfax Adopts Rent Control

CONTACT: Curt Ries, Marin DSA Co-Chair
[email protected] | [email protected] 


First Town in Marin County and Smallest in California to Cap Rents

FAIRFAX, CA — On Wednesday, November 2nd, the Fairfax Town Council voted 5-0 in favor of adopting an ordinance to establish rent stabilization and 4-1 in favor of adopting an ordinance to strengthen just cause eviction protections. Fairfax is the first town in Marin County and the smallest jurisdiction in California to pass rent control. Fairfax has about 7,500 residents and 37% of Fairfax households rent their homes. 

The votes followed nearly two hours of heated public comments, with tenants and supportive homeowners speaking in favor of the policies and landlords and realtors speaking in opposition. The town council has been considering rent stabilization and just cause eviction policies for the last eight months, since March 2022. It has held eight public agendized meetings on the topic.

The rent stabilization ordinance will cap annual rent increases at 60% of the Consumer Price Index or 5%, whichever is lower, making it one of the strongest rent control provisions in the state. The just cause eviction ordinance will strengthen existing protections by establishing a right of return and relocation payments for displaced tenants, closing Ellis Act eviction loopholes, and providing additional protections against eviction for tenants who are elderly, disabled, or terminally-ill and for teachers and students during the school year. Both ordinances will go into effect on December 3rd, 2022.

The landmark ordinances were passed after a year of grassroots campaigning led by local residents and by the Marin Democratic Socialists of America (Marin DSA), who launched a campaign to establish rent control in Marin County during the fall of 2021. Marin DSA has gathered over 3,000 petition signatures from Marin County residents in support of rent control and just cause eviction protections, including over 650 petition signatures from Fairfax residents, about 9% of the town’s population. They are also working to pass rent control in nearby San Anselmo and Larkspur, where they are partnering with the Skylark Tenants Association.

Other organizations who support the campaign include: Sierra Club Marin Group, Legal Aid of Marin, North Bay Labor Council, North Bay Jobs with Justice, California Alliance for Retired Americans Marin CAT, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, Teamsters Local 665, Unite Here 2850, National Union of Healthcare Workers, Showing up for Racial Justice Marin, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative, Disability Justice Marin, and Tenants Together.


Marin DSA Statement of Support for Amazon Workers in Bessemer, AL

Marin DSA stands in solidarity with Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), who are engaged in a historic organizing drive to form the first-ever union for Amazon warehouse workers in the United States. 

All workers deserve a union. Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest person in the world and Amazon has made record profits throughout the pandemic, all while refusing to pay their workers a living wage, failing to provide proper safety standards, and subjecting them to dehumanizing working conditions. 

Capitalism runs on exploiting workers to maximize profits for the wealthy few. Workers organizing together in a union is how we fight back to build a more just, free, and equal world. We stand with RWDSU and the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama!

Resolution to Support Camp Ambition and Camp Compassion

Whereas Marin DSA believes that safe and secure housing and shelter are basic human rights

Whereas Marin DSA is committed to housing and tenant struggles throughout Marin and has been since our local’s inception

Whereas the commodification of housing is at the root of the Bay Area’s and Marin’s housing crisis

Whereas our unhoused comrades lead the struggle for housing in Novato manifested in their work at Camp Ambition and Camp Compassion

Whereas the residents of Camp Ambition aim to take land out of the private housing market and put it under direct control of the people who live on it through the use of a community land trust

Whereas the residents of Camp Ambition have been harassed by the Novato police department, and had their tents and tires slashed by vigilantes

Let it therefore be resolved that Marin DSA stands in solidarity with our unhoused comrades, and will give all possible support to our neighbors living in Camp Ambition and Camp Compassion

Passed in our January General Assembly, Date: 2021-01-02

Board of Supervisors Meeting: Sanctuary Resolution

In response to consistent pressure from activist groups like ICE Out of Marin, the Marin County Board of Supervisors will discuss a resolution to “Reaffirm Support for Immigrant Community” tomorrow at 2 PM. As the name (and its nature as a resolution instead of legislation), this resolution is not legally binding, incremental, and vague. While making a public statement can help shift public opinion, we do not believe this action is nearly enough for what is needed to bring real equality to our undocumented neighbors.

Call To Action!

ICE Out of Marin is encouraging those affected as well as immigrant allies to make their voices heard during the public comment section of this upcoming meeting. We want to make sure the Board knows that this non-binding resolution will not satisfy our calls for justice.

How Can I Help?

The Board of Supervisors meeting will be held on Tuesday, September 15th at 2 PM Pacific. There will be an opportunity for public comment during which you can speak up on this topic. The meeting will be held over Zoom.

Meeting ID: 947 4251 8384
Password: 352533
DSA Calendar Event

Night School: Philantrocapitalism

Here’s what we are reading, and what we’ll be talking about. See you then!

Who’s Afraid of Philanthrocapitalism? (Introduction & 3B: Transforming nonprofit institutions) 

The philanthropic state: market–state hybrids in the philanthrocapitalist turn

How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world?

Have the Rich Become “Super Citizens”?

Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy

Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation

The Gates Foundation’s Hypocritical Investments

Hindsight for 2020

US backed coups in Venezuela, ICE raids and new detention centers, teacher militancy and strikes in LA, Oakland, and in Sonoma, tenant strikes across the country – the list goes on. 2019 was a show of force for both capital and labor militancy. Across the country and here in Marin, DSA is in the middle of the fight.

In late 2018 we started our first meetings, and really ramped it up for 2019.

  • Our housing working group distributed $500 worth of goods directly to the homeless in Marin, and helped distribute more across North Bay.
  • We kicked off the Let’s Own PG&E campaign in Marin with canvassing, a rally, and phone banking, as part of a bay area wide campaign to own our utilities. 
  • Together with North Bay DSA we raised $1000 for abortion access (and we had bowling!)
  • We can’t win the fight against capital on our own. We are building relationships with organizations like Marin Organizing Committee, the Sunrise Movement Marin, SURJ Marin, Marin Young Democrats, Indivisible Sausalito, ICE out of Marin, ISOJI, North Bay Jobs with Justice, etc.
  • We are organizing tenants in two buildings, and together with housing activists across the county are laying the groundwork and connections for a Marin tenants’ union.
  • We’ve hosted education sessions on PG&E, political activism, and the Green New Deal, open to the general public .
  • Led a public discussion at the San Rafael library on political organizing.
  • Supported North Bay Jobs with Justice (and SEIU) to pass an accelerated minimum wage schedule in Novato.
  • We hosted a needlework class and created revolutionary gifts.
  • We provided strike support for the biomedical engineers at Marin General, standing on the sidewalk, getting honked at.
  • Supported Marin Organizing Committee in passing basic tenant protection rights in San Rafael.
  • Spoke at Larkspur city council meetings in support of tenant protection ordinances and urgent action to protect residents of Marin Park, a mobile home community.
  • Tabled at several farmers markets and College of Marin.
  • Had some good beer and stimulating conversations at our First Friday socials.
  • We did Anti-ICE support and flyering in the Canal alongside ICE out of Marin and Canal based organizations, and some of us were trained in Rapid Response and as dispatchers.
  • Hosted a screening of ¡Las Sandanistas! at the Museum of International Propaganda, to standing room only.
  • Two of our members represented the Marin branch at the DSA National Convention
  • Our housing working group organized mutual aid during the fall power shutdowns (PSPS BS!)
  • Got yelled at by local business leaders for standing up for workers.

At our first January meeting we’ll have a conversation about priorities for our work in 2020. A better world is possible.

Come build it with us.

Universal / Single Payer Healthcare

January 15, 2020 7pm – 9pm
199 Greenfield Ave, San Rafael

Recommended Reading:

Additional Reading:

PG&E fails at maintaining our energy grid – and disasters are the result

In 2019 our education working group lead a conversation about utilities and PG&E’s history. The following is the result of our research.

PG&E was aware in 2013 that the transmission towers of the Caribou-Palermo line needed extensive work – but delayed repairs for five years, until after a malfunction on this line sparked the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. (The Mercury News, 2/27/19)

A federal investigation into the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010, which killed 8 people, found that PG&E had spent $83 million less on gas line maintenance than it was supposed to, ignored employee concerns about faulty equipment, and falsified safety records. (NYT 3/18/2019; NPR 10/14/2018) In 2016 PG&E was found guilty of six felony counts for the San Bruno explosion, including violating federal safety standards and obstructing federal investigators. (Mercury News, 8/9/2016)

An investigation by CAL FIRE concluded that PG&E’s poor maintenance of its power lines caused the 2015 Butte Fire, which burned more than 70,000 acres, destroyed more than 500 homes, and killed two people. (Sacramento Bee, 4/28/2016)

In 1997 PG&E was convicted of 739 counts of criminal negligence for failing to trim vegetation in accordance with safety regulations, which started the Trauner fire in 1994 and was responsible for numerous other fires in the 1990s. (SFGate, 6/20/1997)

PG&E encouraged its vegetation management contractors to cut fewer trees to save money in rural areas, and cut tree safety patrols by 25% in 2013. (NBC Bay Area 9/8/2017)

So what did PG&E do with your money instead of spending it on critical maintenance?

An investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) after the Trauner Fire in 1994 found that between 1987 and 1994, PG&E diverted $495 million from its maintenance budget to boost corporate profits. (Salon 10/9/2019)

According to the CPUC, prior to the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion PG&E diverted $100 million from gas safety and operations to pay dividends to its stockholders and bonuses to its executives. (SFGate 1/13/2012)

Since 2000, PG&E has spent more than $160 million on political lobbying to influence California politicians, including more than $2 million this year alone – after declaring bankruptcy! (LA Times 9/13/2019, Sacramento Bee 11/4/2019)

PG&E paid its stockholders billions of dollars in dividends over the past decade, including $798 million in 2017 and $925 million in 2016. (Reuters, 4/2/2019)

PG&E has taken your money, and instead of performing crucial maintenance they’ve boosted their own profits, paid off their shareholders, and given big bonuses to their executives. The results have been fires, explosions, and power outages that have killed dozens of Californians and caused billions of dollars in damage. Now they’re bankrupt, and hoping that Sacramento and hedge fund investors will bail them out.

Let’s put people before profits. It’s time for the public to control our own energy grid and stop our money from being used to line the pockets of PG&E’s executives and investors.