Tenant Activists Face-Off Against City Council in Competing Tacoma Ballot Measures

9 minute read

To appease the landlord lobby, Tacoma City Council is deceiving voters and denying democratic rights.

This article was originally published in Tacoma for All’s Substack. For further background on our fight to win a Tenant Bill of Rights, check out the Tacoma for All website, as well as recent articles in The Seattle Times and the Tacoma Weekly. This campaign was initiated by Tacoma DSA, and is backed by a growing coalition of unions, community groups, faith and elected leaders. We are especially proud of the strong partnership we’ve built with UFCW 367 and the Pierce County Federation of Labor, who have backed this fight from day-one (see the profile of our labor support in this Tacoma Weekly article).

To appease the landlord lobby, Tacoma City Council is deceiving voters and denying democratic rights.

The Tacoma City Council handed the landlord lobby a major victory at their July 11 meeting. Instead of allowing Tacoma voters a clean up or down vote on the Tenant Bill of Rights – ballot Measure 1 – City Council voted 7-2 to put their watered-down set of Rental Housing Code changes up as a competing ballot Measure 2 in November.

As Tacoma for All supporters warned in hours of testimony, with this vote the City Council chose a fierce fight with our growing labor-community coalition. In a final attempt to avoid this fight, we sent a letter to  the Mayor and City Council in late June urging them not to force Tacoma voters into a “false choice.” 

Signed by over two dozen unions, community groups, faith leaders, and elected representatives including State Senator Yasmin Trudeau, our letter urged council members to vote “NO” to a competing initiative. Instead, we asked them “to quickly pass your proposed changes to the Rental Housing Code, which complement rather than compete with [the Tenant Bill of Rights]. Between them, we could win even more comprehensive protections. If they compete, we could all lose.” 

Giving Voters a “Choice”?

Mayor Woodards, explaining her July 11 vote, was quoted in the media saying: “My vote tonight to put this on the ballot is not to confuse voters. My vote tonight is to give voters a choice.” Unfortunately, that statement is deceptive on multiple levels. 

To begin with, the City Council has already signed their Rental Housing Code changes into law

You heard that right: All of the tenant protections in the City’s Measure 2 were already passed in a unanimous vote of City Council at that same July 11 meeting. And those protections will remain the law of the land whether or not a majority of Tacomans vote for the City’s Measure 2 this November. The only real impact of voting for Measure 2 is to defeat Measure 1, our Tenant Bill of Rights. 

How is that a better “choice” than a clean up or down vote on Measure 1? In reality, the City’s competing Measure 2 is designed to muddy the debate and to provide the landlord lobby a powerful weapon to deceive voters.

This deceptive maneuver by a 7-2 majority of City Council speaks volumes about their real intent: to deny the democratic rights of over 7,200 Tacoma voters who signed petitions to put Measure 1 on the ballot for a clean up or down vote  – a democratic right clearly enshrined in the Tacoma City Charter!

It gets worse. 

City Hall’s deception isn’t limited to media statements. Despite objections from Tacoma for All, the official summary of Measure 2 (the “ballot title”), which voters will see on their November ballots, completely obscures the actual impact of a vote for the City’s Measure. Instead of making clear that the policies in Measure 2 are already law – instead of making clear that these policies will remain law whether or not Measure 2 passes – the ballot title approved by the City Attorney implies that a vote for Measure 2 will create new tenant protections.

There may be a silver-lining. If a majority of voters back Measure 1 in November, Tacoma tenants will enjoy BOTH the stronger protections in our Tenant Bill of Rights AND the already-passed Rental Housing Code changes. We believe that we can win this outcome. The fact is, our labor-community coalition emerged from this months-long fight with City Hall stronger than ever, while the City Council emerged more isolated. 

We Can Win This Fight

We should be clear, though – our movement faces an uphill battle. Landlord lobbyist Jim Henderson and others are now amassing a huge war-chest to pummel voters with fear-mongering mailers and deceptive ads this fall. 

Corporate landlords know that tenant rights are popular. They know they couldn’t win an up or down vote on the Tenant Bill of Rights. But now, with the City Council coming to their rescue, the landlord lobby hopes to divide working people’s votes between our Measure 1 and the City’s Measure 2. They aim to whip up fear and confusion against Measure 1’s stronger eviction protections, caps on move-in fees, and relocation assistance when rent hikes over 5% force tenants to move.

Our grassroots movement can win this fight, but it’s going to take everyone joining hands. Can you donate $5, $25, or $250 today to ensure our labor-community coalition can go toe-to-toe with the landlord Super PAC? 

With your support, we can answer the landlord’s lies with our own mailers and ads – and we can expand our volunteer army to talk face-to-face with tens of thousands of Tacomans in a powerful get-out-the-vote campaign. Sign up today to volunteer, and then RSVP for our All-Volunteer Training on August 27th.

Ty Moore is the Tacoma for All Campaign Manager, and also serves as Seattle DSA’s Communications Organizer. He is part of Tacoma DSA’s elected Steering Committee, and hosts the SOCIALIST SOUND podcast.