By Susan Bouscaren
As detailed in the last issue of the Community Alliance, the new realtor- and bank-influenced City Council of Merced voted to repeal the Just Cause for Evictions ordinance on May 21, 2012. This ordinance had been approved in late 2011 by the outgoing City Council.
The measure was introduced to protect renters who through no fault of their own face eviction when their home is foreclosed upon due to the owner defaulting on payments. In the first three months of its existence, the measure aided 90 families who would otherwise have been forced to vacate the properties.
In an unprecedented move, renters, Occupy Merced activists and other concerned citizens launched a referendum campaign to garner signatures from 10% of those eligible to vote in the last city election. Their purpose was to force the City Council to reconsider and modify its decision or to force the matter into a public election through the referendum process.
The race was on to get 2,949 signatures within 30 days. Nearly 4,000 signatures were acquired and turned in on July 5 of this year. But that was not the end. The City Council met in a special session just to go forward and give the news about the validation of the signatures on the petitions.
The county recorder agreed with the statewide tenants rights group, Tenants Together, to validate the first 500 signatures and if there were not enough to qualify it for referendum, Tenants Together would be allowed to watch the remainder of the validation and double check the results. In mid-August, the president of Tenants Together was called and informed that the 500 would be the only count and that the petition did not qualify. No validating the remaining signatures. That’s it.
The four members of the Merced City Council who voted for the repeal (Tony Dorsetti, Mike Murphy, Mayor Stan Thurston and Josh Pedrozo) caved to the people who financed their campaigns. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s being done all over this country, and it can happen anytime, anywhere.
The petitioners are not through yet; they are just figuring out the next step. Be wary and watchful everyone. These concerned citizens thought they were doing something good for a city that has been bought up by large investors and banks during this foreclosure crisis and has a 60% renter community.
Well there is a moral to this story. You will not be a qualified voter if you have moved and still vote at your old polling place. You will not be a qualified voter if they cannot read your name. You will not be a qualified voter if you have changed your signature. And you will not be a qualified voter if they spelled your name wrong in their database. In other words, they can disqualify you from any petition or not count your vote any time they want.
What will happen next? Well, most of Occupy Merced is still in the struggle, waiting to find out if the count for the sample is correct. A tenants association will also be forming for Merced, joining Tenants Together as a local chapter. That decision was made on Aug. 7, and the fight for justice for those who are afraid to stand alone, or are not sure of the road to pursue, will continue. But to be the most effective, additional voices are needed. Numbers are the most effective way to fight dirty politics. Why do you think the government is so scared of the Occupy movement?
Merced’s concerned citizens have not been in this fight alone. The support of some special nonprofit groups such as Central California Journey for Justice and the Merced Organizing Project has been critical. Thank you. And thank you to the three Merced City Council members who never wavered in their decision: Mayor Pro Tem Noah Lor, Mary-Michal Rawling and Bill Blake.
Susan Bouscaren is a member of Occupy Merced, Tenants Together and Merced Prison Reform Advocates. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.