The unethical fight against tenants’ rights

Sacramento realtor and board member of the Sacramento Association of Realtors (which has given $100,000 to the fight against Sacramento tenants' rights) Patrick Stelmach presents himself to FOX40 news as a "renter" while arguing against renters' protections at Sacramento City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Struggling with some of the highest rent hikes in the nation, Sacramento tenants have banded together, gathering tens of thousands of signatures to get a measure outlining renters’ protections on the November 2020 ballot.

But California realtors and property managers, led by a nebulous business advocacy group, are working to put a stop to the initiative and hold onto their assets—using some shady practices.

Take, for example, Patrick Stelmach:

Patrick went on Fox 40 before a Sacramento City Council meeting last Tuesday, Sept. 4, to argue against renters’ protections, presenting himself to the news crew as, simply, a “renter.”

A screen shot of Patrick Stelmach’s profile on the Turton Real Estate website.

But Stelmach isn’t just a renter. He is also: 

While Stelmach’s behavior on television is one of the more blatant acts of dishonesty so far in the fight against renters’ protections, this brand of politics has been perpetuated since the beginning.

Some two weeks after the Housing for Sacramento coalition launched its grassroots campaign to gather tens of thousands of signatures for a ballot initiative to protect tenants, California realtors and landlords created an opposition group led by a business advocacy firm known for its willingness to get dirty in political battles, called Region Business. [See the money behind both initiatives here.]

This anti-renters’-rights initiative—named, in a jaw-dropping act of doublespeak, Citizens for Affordable Housing—appears to be a classic example of astroturfing.

“Astroturfing” is a political term used to describe the strategy of shielding the sponsors of a message or organization to make it look like it’s backed by grassroots supporters.

One look at Citizens for Affordable Housing’s website will reveal all you need to know about them.

A screen shot of the Citizens for Affordable Housing home page.

Unlike the Housing for Sacramento site—which has an About page, community member testimonies and opportunities to volunteer—the Citizens for Affordable Housing page is tellingly bare-bones, with just a couple of buttons overlaid on a stock image of a young family standing outside a house. Some other telling details:

  • There is no About page
  • There are no opportunities to volunteer or community member testimonies
  • The Contact page provides no identifiable contact information–just a generic form to fill out
  • If you run a WhoIs request to find out who runs the website, you’ll find that the owner has paid to have their identity concealed
  • The address provided for mail-in contributions is that of a political lobbying law firm on Capitol Mall

Members at this law firm are listed on public CAH filings as the group’s treasurers.

Other officers listed are Caylyn Wright of the Sacramento Association of Realtors and Jim Lofgren of the California Apartment Association, two groups who have vested monetary interests in quashing renters’ protections. Their organizations have injected $100,000 and $50,000 into the fight, respectively.

The final officer listed is Josh Wood of Region Business, the political advocacy firm famous for its work in fighting against a raise in the city’s minimum wage and for putting Sacramento taxpayers on the line for $255 million of the Sacramento Kings’ new $535 million downtown arena.

Wood has a nasty reputation for playing dirty in local politics. He threatens lawsuits. He engages in misinformation campaigns. He refuses to reveal Region Business’s funders. This campaign is no different in tenor.

As soon as Housing for Sacramento launched its signature-gathering initiative, Wood and his CAH colleagues put folks out in the streets to tail signature gatherers and hand out flyers claiming the initiative included a “board of bureaucrats” that could “choose to raise rents on everyone to pay for their new policies, and the voters would not be able to anything about it [sic].” An outright lie.

The “PETITION WITHDRAWL FORM [sic]” used by Citizens for Affordable Housing representatives who tailed signature gatherers for the 2020 renters’ protections ballot initiative.

They also tailed signature gatherers with a “PETITION WITHDRAWL FORM [sic],” which would presumably nullify signatures given by residents who signed the original ballot initiative.

Both the flyer campaign and petition withdrawal initiative failed, however, and last month Housing for Sacramento submitted their signatures to the Sacramento City Clerk.

Rather than let the people of Sacramento determine the merits of renters’ protections on their own in November 2020, Wood and company are threatening to try and get the initiative thrown out in court. We’ll see how that pans out.

In the meantime, Democratic Socialists of America’s Sacramento chapter—which worked in the signature gathering initiative, and whose members were among the first to note Patrick Stelmach’s misrepresentation on Fox 40–report that they’re getting some newfound attention from the folks at the powerful Townsend Calkin Tapio Public Affairs, which conveniently shares the same I Street office building as Region Business.

Sacramento is set to have a long, important discussion on housing and renters’ protections. And it is reasonable to have good faith disagreements on things like rent control.

In order for these good faith conversations to occur, however, it’s important that we root out the ratfuckers and call out dishonest behavior when we see it.

I’d argue that the folks engaging in such tactics don’t deserve a seat at the table.


Dave Kempa on EmailDave Kempa on FacebookDave Kempa on InstagramDave Kempa on LinkedinDave Kempa on Twitter
Dave Kempa
Editor at VOICES: River City
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.