A recent article at Next discussed the Rent Control Board and how next week they are expected to vote to increase the rent by up to 2.8% for properties governed by the city’s rent control laws. To explain the process by which increases are set, the value of rent control for a city such as Santa Monica and other matters related to the vote; we brought on Rent Control Boardmember Daniel Ivanov for this week’s episode of What’s Next.
If you have any issues with your rent, or questions for the Rent Control Board, Daniel asked that we print his email address so you can get in touch with him directly. You can do so, here : Danny.Ivanov@santamonica.gov.
In addition to rent control, we also discuss crime and public safety in Santa Monica and how some politicians and media outlets skew the perception of these issues for their personal gain. And of course we have five “fun” questions to help you get to know Ivanov, and myself, a little better.
If you’re just joining us, you can catch up on past episodes of Santa Monica Next: Episode 1 with Jesse Zwick, Episode 2 with Kate Cagle, Episode 3 with Rick Cole, Episode 4 with Abby Arnold, and Episode 5 with Cynthia Rose.
Below is a transcript of the interview from today’s podcast.
Damien Newton (DN): So I’m Damien Newton, we’re recording on Zen caster with Daniel Ivanov. Thank you for being with us today. You were just elected to the Rent Control board back in November and we’re about to vote on your first rent increase. How exciting.
Daniel Ivanov (DI): Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
DN: All right. So as I said, I believe the June 8 meeting, which if we put this up, tomorrow, June 1, will be one week away, is the first meeting where you’re going to be voting on one of the rent increases. The rent increase is much smaller than it was last year. But I think some people who might not be listening to this might not even completely understand how rent control works. So could we start off with just a very brief primer on what rent control is, what sort of the controversies were last year and how that sort of been solved for this year?
DI: Sure. It’s called the GA, so a general adjustment. And this year, the GA is going to be we announced that our last meeting is going to be 2.8%. Now, that’s a mathematical formula using the consumer price index that the rent control agency calculates. So the board doesn’t necessarily approve or deny the 2.8. The 2.8 is what the rate is using the formula. What we can do at our next meeting on the eighth is we can set a maximum dollar amount cap, which this year, if same thing doing the same calculation, it would be $67. So that’s, that’s going to be all at our next meeting on the eighth, there’s going to be a public comment period for the GA, and then we’re also going to vote on our budget to approve that for the new fiscal year.
In terms of where we’ve been, and kind of how we got here. I think a lot of people remember that last year, around summer of 2022, I want to say July or August, we got hit with the news that the GA last year it was going to be 6%. And 6%, in my understanding, is either the largest GA figure that we’ve had in decades, if not ever. And so part of the reason why I ran and a proposal that eventually got onto the ballot was measure RC, which would have kept that 6% to 3%.
Thankfully, voters passed that overwhelmingly in November, I believe it was like by a 70 to 30% margin. So that was good news. That got passed, we got that implemented essentially right after the election. A lot of renters in Santa Monica felt that relief right away. And so, moving forward 3%, which is always going to be the cap. We ended up coming off at 2.8 this year. Thankfully, inflation stabilized a little bit year over year, which is part of why we got that lower rate.
DN: So let’s take it back into a little bit more basic level, if someone’s listening to this and GA’s, and rent caps, and all that seems strange, either they just moved to the area or they happen to be in a unit that’s not rent controlled. Rent control is a big part of Santa Monica’s history.
The city has its own political party that’s basically “the rent control party.” And until 2022, excuse me until 2020. They basically won every election, and they had a little bit of a hiccup. And then they did pretty well again last year. Like every level: school board, rent control board, city council, like they win on this issue, but let’s get a real brief explanation of what is right and control. It’s been around in Santa Monica for 50 years, sort of the very basics of how it works and why you have a rent control board that goes through all of these different things to try to keep the rent low for a large segment of the population.
DI: That’s a great point because Santa Monica is the oldest rent control jurisdiction in the state. I mean, there’s only about 14 in the whole state. We’ve had it since about 1979. And we’re the first ones in the state to do it. Fundamentally, what rent control is, at its most basic level, is it essentially sets a cap either at $1 amount figure or a percentage about how much your rent could go up year over year.
It stops landlords from implementing exorbitant rent increases of 5% 10% 15%, I mean, crazy figures like that, right? So the GA, for people that, you know, don’t know all the nuances of all those mathematical calculations, the GA is that cap that comes out every year, that tells you how much your rent is gonna go up that year. But it cannot go more than that. That’s the ceiling that is going to be set so that you will not pay more money than that cap.
I think you asked, “Why is it necessary to have a rent control board? Why is it necessary to have an agency do these functions?”
We are already currently in Santa Monica…we are already pricing out doctors, lawyers, engineers, people that are traditionally upper middle class, right. And so we need some mechanism, some agency in the city that tries to level the playing field. We need someone to try to stabilize things a little bit. And when I’m talking about doctors, lawyers, engineers getting priced out. I’m not talking about, you know, retail workers or food service workers. If middle class people and upper middle class people are struggling; we’re where our lower middle class people and those striving to break into the middle class, how are they doing? We have to figure out what kind of city we want to be. And what I mean by that is, Santa Monica can easily become like, a Malibu or the Palisades, where, if you want to live in Santa Monica, the only feasible way of doing that is being a celebrity with a multimillion dollar income.
I don’t think any of us want to live in a city like that. I want to live in a city where middle class people can, can put down roots, you know, live thrive, raise a family. Those that are striving to break into the middle class have an opportunity to do that. So it’s a value statement, right? I mean, it’s just we have to decide, as a city, what our values are. And I think the rent control board is on the front lines of trying to level that playing field to make it just a little more equitable, to get more people to be able to afford to live here.
DN: It was interesting, because when you were mentioning the potentially exorbitant rent increases, you’ll see in some places you said 5-10-15%, but that five is actually lower than what it was last year, with a rent control board. Which is, I guess one of the reasons why you got interested in running and one of the reasons the City Council put out, Measure RC, and it didn’t seem to have much trouble passing. It got wildly high approval numbers.
DI: Correct. And to your point last year was really a very unique situation. That GA is calculated based on the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation. And last year, we had the highest inflation rate in this country, probably since the 70s, and probably in over 40 years. So that really was an anomaly. That was, you know, a very unusual circumstance. But I’m glad that when it happened the voters in Santa Monica, you know, rose up and implemented a change to make that burden a little easier for renters in our community.
DN: It always it always feels like such a struggle to get certain things past but it really did seem that this is a core value that very few people were willing to budge on. A couple of weeks ago, I did an article on the 2.8% increase, which I think I still call the proposed increase, even though it’s pretty much locked in because it’s a math formula, not a political calculation. I talked about how the opposition to RC was really just landlords, the rent control party was for it, the Democratic Party was for it, the conservative columnist at the Mirror were for it…like everyone was for it, except for like, a handful of conservative really, really conservative groups. And the people that want to raise the rents more than 6% or more than 3%.
DI: Yeah, and I want to touch on one more issue because. You mentioned the RC and the 3% is kind of one of the one of the reasons why I ran. I want to talk about another issue I ran that was happening simultaneously around the time that 6% GA announcement came out. We talked about this before together as well. But last summer,I believe this was August of 2022. Somewhere around there. There was a proposal in the city council by councilmember Lana Negrete. That was introduced around, I think it was like three or four in the morning.
DN: It was, yeah, 11th hour as well, is how we referred to it, and someone actually said to me, it was after the 11th hour.
DI: And her proposal was a little more complex than how I’m going to describe it, but at its most basic functional level, so that people can understand: what it what it would have done was it would have means tested rent control. What means testing means essentially, is that instead of every single person getting the same benefit of what that GA is going to be, her proposal would have basically created these different income thresholds and brackets, where depending on what the thresholds were, and where and where you fell, based on your income within those brackets, people would have got some people would have gotten a certain amount of relief, other people would have gotten a different amount of relief. And some people would have gotten no amount of rent control relief whatsoever, because their income would have been considered too high to qualify, depending on the thresholds.
And so, just think about renters last year in Santa Monica, you know, first they got hit with the news of like, we’re gonna get a 6% increase. It’s the highest increase we’ve had in decades, if not ever. And then at the same time, almost simultaneously, they get this news that the city council is thinking about, potentially, getting rid of rent control whatsoever, and having people not qualified at all. Part of why I ran and part of why I’m serving on the board, is it remains to be seen if counsel is going to explore anything like that again. But, I just want to make it known that I will do everything in my power on the rent control board to put a stop to any kind of effort like that. And preserve the essence of rent control the way it was originally implemented in 1979. And has been throughout the decades in our city.
DN: It was certainly an election season last year where it felt like there was sort of a progressive push back after the 2020 election was an outlier as far as the city’s politics go.
But we’ve already gone a little over 12 minutes. And we try to keep these to 3 10 minute ish segments. We just did the segment I wanted to talk about and you wanted to talk a little bit about public safety and our experiences in the city and how maybe the way that the public safety discussion is being framed by some of the loudest voices isn’t the most productive.
I’ll say to people listening a couple of weeks ago, when we met for the first time, we walked up and down the Promenade in the middle of the day, and basically had a discussion about how, it’s not the experience of casually walking up and down. The promenade was a very comfortable and safe experience. There were plenty of open shops and things to do. I was writing down restaurants that I could bring them back and bring my kids to that evening. But sometimes when you hear the Promenade discussed, it sounds like Thunderdome in Mad Max, and we’ve got our masks and our flame throwers. And it’s a very scary, terrible place.
That wasn’t our experience on that day. And I think you’re saying for the most part, that’s not the experience.
DI: Yeah, well, so the reason why I raised this issue, and you talked about kind of the loudest voices, you know, saying these things. I bring it back to the last election cycle, you know, in 2022. You know, there were certain candidates, I remember in particular, Armand Melkonians, was running for council at that time. And every time that I saw him speak, whether it was at a debate or you know, at some kind of forum, he would essentially, you know, paint this picture, like you’ve said that Santa Monica is like this hellscape that’s, you know, extremely dangerous and no one feels safe walking the streets. And this one line that he would always reiterate that rubbed me the wrong way, especially was, …he would talk about how he walks on Ocean Avenue all the time. And the parking lots are completely empty. No one’s there. There’s no tourists. The Promenade is empty. And that, you know, that was his bit. He said that no matter what time of day it was, whether he was going on a weekday on a weekend, morning, afternoon, evening, whatever, no matter what time of day it was, it was always like that.
The reason why I say it rubs me the wrong way is because I literally live on Ocean Avenue. My apartment building is on Ocean Avenue. I walk Ocean Avenue every day. I walk, you know, the trail by the pier almost every day. And, it’s just not true. I mean, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Every time I walk down the pier by the trail or on Ocean Avenue, the parking lot is jam packed. You cannot find a parking spot, do you go down towards Montana with those parking lots. Same thing, there’s, there’s not one spot to be had.
Same thing with the public beach parking right outside Santa Monica Beach is always packed.
And to your point, when we walked the Promenade, you mentioned that, you know, it might be a little less people than pre-pandemic. And that could be partially due to the pandemic, I can’t, you know, attest to that, because I’ve only been in Santa Monica since 2021. So I don’t have a frame of reference pre-pandemic. But I’ve lived here for, you know, going on two years now. I’ve never had a situation where I felt like I was walking in a ghost town where the streets were completely vacant. And frankly, I’ve never had a situation yet where I was ever walking in the streets and just felt unsafe to be outside. I’m not trying to say that Santa Monica doesn’t have its problems.
I’m not trying to say that we’re some perfect utopia that doesn’t have issues with, you know, public safety and homelessness, and we have our problems every city does. But I think this notion of just painting, you know, Santa Monica with this crime ridden picture, and we talked about John Ali’s billboard on the Promenade as well. It’s not productive. If you care about those issues, those scare test scare tactics, those fear mongering tactics are not doing anything to productively solve the problem. So that begs the question, you know, why are we doing them? Or why are the people that are using those tactics? doing them?
DN: I always do like to qualify that, you know, I am a six foot two middle aged male who is in good physical shape and teaches martial arts to children. So maybe I’m more confident in situations that other people would find scary. But three times a week I’m running Ocean Park, Pico Boulevard, sometimes even Olympic, 17th Street, I’m running the streets, you know, it’s dark out. And I don’t feel intimidated or scared. Like, I might run into a homeless person sleeping in a doorstop, or something like that. Or someone might shout something at me, but it’s not scary. It’s like I live in a city.
If I wanted to avoid all of that, I suppose I could live out in the forest somewhere where I grew up, but it’s not. I don’t have these kind of “Oh, my God vibes” when I’m out doing it. And I said, I’m out early in the morning.
DI: Yeah. No, I completely agree with you. I’m not going on runs like you are, I probably should be. But like I said, I walked the trail a lot by the beach. A lot of days in the evenings after work. Sometimes, weekend mornings, you know, are also different times of the day. And yeah, I echo your experience. I just haven’t had those kinds of issues.
DN: Yeah, maybe we’re just both too intimidating.
DI: Yeah. Or we’ve just, you know, gotten, you know, crazy lucky over this amount of time. But I don’t think that’s the case.
DN: Well, I mean, because when we talked, I talked about crime rates with people. You know, we talked about the city and the county and all of that. I do like to point out, you know, anecdotal information, which is a lot of what news reports are to is not always the best way to judge things. For example, the odds of getting shot in California are lower than the odds of getting shot in North Carolina. But there’s not breathless news segments about the murder rates in North Carolina, like there are about Los Angeles and San Francisco. I’m sort of lumping Santa Monica into greater Los Angeles, but there’s a perception, because these are dense places with a lot of people.
So those crimes, it’s obviously always a horrible thing when something like that happens, but when you’re in a county with 11 million people, you know, statistically speaking, that’s going to happen. But then you have the news reports and you have people that take what’s in those news reports and blow them up into big news.
I’m sure the Observer’s article on whatever it was that happened at the pier the other night where some, I guess there was a stabbing in the evening hours, I bet the Santa Monica Observer story reads very differently than the Daily Press story, which is very different than the SMPD press release. But all that sort of stuff can create a perception for people.
DI: Not to get, you know, to necessarily be political on this. But if you actually crunched the numbers per capita in the aggregate a lot of red states like Oklahoma end up having higher murder rates, higher gun violence rates than states like New York, California. That doesn’t always, that doesn’t always make it into the headline.
But if you actually look at the statistical data, you know, that’s just kind of where the numbers fall.
DN: So we’re now past the 21 minute mark, which means it’s time to ask fun questions. Hooray for fun. For anyone just listening or who has always turned it off right after I say “fun questions.” Our ground rules are that these questions are usually supplied by readers. If we don’t get good reader questions, or we don’t get five good reader questions, I usually fill in with variations of questions that have gotten us fun answers in the past.
As always, Daniel has the option to turn around and ask me one of the questions at the end of the five questions, which is both a way for you, the listeners, to get a better sense of me the editor/podcaster. And a way to sort of make it so that I don’t start asking totally insane, zany personal questions that no one would ever want to answer, because then there’s a chance I would have to answer them, too. So are you ready? Are you fun?
DI: I am ready. I think I can be fun.
DN: So I have tried and failed several times to get good restaurant advice from people by doing this. Finally, Abby gave me a good one last time. And so I don’t want to say what it is because then if you say the same thing, people will be like, “Oh, whatever.” And then I find fun ways to ask it. But I’m just going to be blunt this time. What is your favorite place to grab a bite to eat in Santa Monica?
DI: So my absolute favorite restaurant in Santa Monica is called FIA. F-I-A it’s on Wilshire. It’s my favorite dinner spot. That’s my go to great food.
DN: All right, and when you and I met, we met at a coffee shop. And I’ll tell people I went to the wrong coffee shop with the exact same name. It was in Century City instead of the one in Santa Monica. But I have a feeling you just say its name now so I’m not going to ruin it and which will we’ll go on with? I know you like to drink coffee. So what is that? What’s the best coffee spot in the city as well?
DI: Well, before I answer that, can I know what your favorite restaurant is?
DN: Oh yeah, we’re gonna go right to that. Well, my favorite restaurant to eat has good food but it’s not…I don’t think it’s the best food in Santa Monica. It’s really good. I’m a big fan of Il Forno for a couple of reasons. One, my kids love to eat there and my in- laws love to eat there. So I end up there a lot. The other thing is you can often find Supervisor Sheila Kuehl there with Judy Abdo. Just sitting there eating together, they do it a lot. And I always go over and say hi to them, and they recognize me. But the thing is I’m not.
I’m friends with Judy. And I barely know, Sheila. And so when I do these conversations with them the joke, it’s not really a joke. They always say that I’m the one who’s there to chat with Judy. And I’m like, “Oh yeah, and hi supervisor.”
And then, Judy and I chat and catch up. Pre-pandemic, I’d see her, you know, a couple times a month. And now I see her a couple times a year. So it’s always fun to see her and catch up and to have that little bit of time where someone is there to chat up the friend instead of the you know, the politician. Of course Judy is a former mayor. So I imagine she’s got plenty of people that know her very well and her work with Forward as well. But I do like going there with my family and friends and just going there plus their $10 takeout lunch is a hit for somebody who lives a mile from there and works from home.
DI: I’ll have to check it out. Because I haven’t, I haven’t been there yet. So I gotta check it out.
DN: Yeah, it’s right on Ocean Park like I think around 28th or 29th. Since the Starbucks down the block from me closed it’s also where I go to pick up Starbucks when my kids want Starbucks for breakfast. So anyway, now we’re going to talk about better coffee than Starbucks now.
DI: Yeah, yeah. So coffee spot…I really like Blue Bottle Blue Bottle coffee. It’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. They have an iced sweet latte. I get the same thing every time. I’m not even interested to know what else is on them. I knew because it’s like the best one. So yeah, that’s my go to coffee spot.
DN: So this one might end up being a little self promotional-for you. But that’s fine. As long as you keep it fun. You are young, and you’ve won an elected government position as a young person, and you’re good looking. And I can tell from talking to you, you’re smart. So when you look in the mirror, do you see a future President of the United States or a future county supervisor? Or are you really passionate about rent control and see yourself doing this for as long as you’re not term limited out and then, you know, calling it an elected official career?
DI: That’s a very flattering thing for you to say, I really appreciate that. I definitely intend on serving out my full term on the rent board. And I mean, I’ll just be honest, in terms of next steps, I’m still kind of figuring that out. I don’t know. But I’m very interested in public policy. I’m an attorney. I think a lot of those skills are transferable to, you know, politics and public policy. I definitely have an interest there. And I have considered you know, potentially running for some higher office in the future. I don’t know how all of that is going to shake out yet. But it’s definitely something that I’ve thought about doing and exploring for sure.
DN: Question for and we’ve asked variations of this to Kate Cagle. Someone else I can’t remember who now, which is you’re a lawyer by trade. Do you have a favorite television or movie or some other sort of pop culture lawyer that you’d like to tell us about?
DI: There’s a lot I love. I do love legal shows, legal dramas. I think probably one of my favorites would have to be Harvey Specter on suits. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Suits before.
DN: I don’t have USA but when I was younger, I think I had it for like a season or two of it. It was on rotation. After Burn Notice, I think…
DI: I love Suits. Love Harvey Specter. I love the Good Wife and the good fight spin off. Do you watch this show at home?
DN: My wife and I really enjoyed the Good Wife. We never we didn’t have Paramount+ when the good fight came out. And now it’s sort of on this like List of TV shows. We’re gonna get around to watching one day. I’m familiar with The Good Wife characters, and I know that some of them crossover.
DI: Yeah, definitely. If it’s on your list, I definitely recommend getting to it. Favorite lawyer from that show would have to be Diane Lockhart. I think she’s awesome.
DN: She crosses over right? She’s the Good Fight…she’s the star of
DI: She’s one of the main characters and you know, I just admire her on this show cuz she’s like this, liberal democratic warrior, you know, an attorney and fighting the good fight. I mean, that’s, that’s the, you know, the name of the show. And yeah, so she’s probably one of my other favorite TV lawyers out there.
DN: It is May 31. When we’re recording this, hopefully, it’s June 1, we’re listening to this, which means we will have just gotten out of Bike Month. Did you do anything to celebrate Bike Month and I will tell you that we scrapped this question in our last interview because the person did not do anything for bike month, but that’s okay. Because you don’t have to. Sometimes Bike Month is in our heart.
DI: Yeah, no, I’ll be honest, I did not do anything to celebrate Bike Month either. I probably should have. But I am curious. What you would have done to celebrate, like,
DN: What I would have done? What makes you think I didn’t do something?
DI: I mean, what you did, I didn’t phrase that properly. What
DN: If anyone is listening who listened to our May 1 podcast will know when we had Cynthia Rose with Santa Monica Spoke, I promised I was gonna get out to one of the Handlebar Happy hours and I did not. Those are Thursday night after work events that they put on throughout the year but they do one a week during Bike Month are great events. I haven’t been to one since the pandemic started for Spoke and I will get out to one this year. I promise some personal stuff came up. So may I call for an apology for that. But my kids’ school here in Mar Vista, we have the best Bike to School Day I think in the city…it’s not as big as bikeit!/walkit!/busit!…I’m sure they’ve added scootit! and some other “it’s” to it by now…it’s not as big as the one they have in Santa Monica.
But one of the things we do, because we have a lot of kids that bus into the school or drive into the school. Yeah, we still have school buses for the school. A lot of kids do that. It’s a French Immersion School, only one of the areas where we get lots of kids that come from far away for it. So we actually partner with a local church that lets us use their parking lot as a staging ground so people can get dropped off. And then bike to school with a ride that the one of the school administrators…super popular administrator leads. Another school administrator leads a walk from the church, so everybody can participate no matter how far away they are. There’s some bike events that happen on campus that I’m working, so I don’t get to manage what we do.
So I organized that this year. And it was back to its original numbers, we obviously didn’t do it in 2020… in 2021 numbers were pretty low. But by 2023, we were back to our full numbers. And that was a lot of fun. And I look forward to it every year and the stupid kids are getting older and older every year. So eventually, they’ll probably ask someone else to do it. Because you know, my kids will be in college and it’ll be weird and creepy.
So that’s, that’s it for our fun questions, and you got me to do two and you did four. So that’ll have to make up for Rick Cole not asking me anything. Thank you so much for being here. Of course, we’re going to cover the June 8 meeting. And we look forward to following and talking more about what the rent control board does, because you do meet more than once a year and I think it’d be interesting for people to hear some of the other stuff that you guys do. I mean you’re elected officials on the ballot. It’s not like you’re a neighborhood association or one of the appointed boards or commissions. This is a full elected position, city-wide position. And I think the more people know about what it is you guys do; the better everyone will be. It’s good for democracy and I learned a lot talking to you last couple of weeks ago that we didn’t get to cover today. So we’ll probably have you back sometime in a couple months to continue to fill us in.
DI: I would be glad to. Yeah, thank you so much. This was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it and you know for your your viewers and listeners if anybody has any questions about their rent or issues with their landlord, whatever. You know, my city emails on the rent control website on the city’s rent control website, by all means email me ask me questions, whatever you need.
DN: And we’ll put that email right in the text of the article that accompanies it. So if you’re listening to this on Spotify, or Apple or something like that, instead of just off of Santa Monica Next and you don’t have text, go to SantaMonicanext.org. And if you scroll down a little bit, there’s a podcast section. Even if you’re listening to this a couple of weeks from now. You’ll be able to find this podcast pretty easily and there’s a link to his email right in there. Alright, so I’m gonna say thank you, and we’ll talk to you soon.
DI: Thank you. Looking forward to it.