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California Republicans join activists supporting rent control to block new housing

Political provocateur Michael Weinstein has the unlikeliest of allies in his quest to remove statewide limits on rent control: Republicans in Huntington Beach.

Weinstein, a nonprofit executive who's poured upward of $100 million into political fights in California, is trying to repeal a law that bars cities from rent-controlling newer apartments — a restriction that's ferociously guarded by developers and real estate investors.

Opponents of his November ballot measure — his third such attempt — say it would have such a chilling effect on development that it could essentially allow local governments to skirt state laws requiring them to allow more housing.

"On paper, it would be legal to build new homes. But it would be illegal, largely speaking, to make money doing so,” said Louis Mirante, vice president of public policy at the Bay Area Council, a pro-business advocacy group that opposes the measure.

That's where Weinstein's effort has apparently found a friend in Huntington Beach Councilmember Tony Strickland, a Republican who's attempting to organize his colleagues behind a measure backed by liberal activists. He has led the city's efforts to fight Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta in court as the state tries to force the city to comply with housing mandates.

Strickland said Weinstein's rent control measure would block "the state's ability to sue our city" because Huntington Beach could slap steep affordability requirements on new, multi-unit apartment projects that are now exempt from rent control. Such requirements, he argued, could stop development that would "destroy the fabric" of the town's quaint "Surf City" vibe.

Pro-housing advocates who have long clashed with Weinstein argue affluent cities have already tried to use the guise of affordability requirements to try to prevent new construction — and that this measure would make it easier for them to do so.

Soon after California passed a law requiring cities to allow duplexes and lot splits in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes, several coastal enclaves, including Dana Point and Camarillo, tried to impose stringent rules for such units, requiring below-market rents.

Those cities largely backed down after the state threatened legal action. But some pro-housing leaders and Newsom allies say the rent-control ballot measure appears to be similarly motivated.

A person close to the governor, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said: "They're all patches in the same quilt, which is that there are people in this state who just don't want to see more housing.

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