California Currents

Rent control firebrand Weinstein has no regrets

Michael Weinstein, center, attends an AIDS march in 2012 with musician Wyclef Jean, left, and comedian Margaret Cho. (Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes/Creative Commons, via CALmatters)

Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, had a rough time in Sacramento a few weeks ago.

Weinstein, whose organization spent more than $20 million on a failed initiative last November to expand rent control throughout California, saw a state lawmaker’s effort to do the same fail to attract enough support to even receive a vote.

A day earlier, a high-profile bill that forces cities to allow apartment buildings around public transit passed a crucial committee test. Weinstein vigorously opposes SB 50, funding an ad campaign against the legislation that invoked the image of African-American writer James Baldwin and compared the bill to mid-century “urban renewal” programs that Baldwin labeled “Negro removal.” — ads that drew condemnation from the president of the NAACP’s San Francisco chapter.

But Weinstein isn’t backing off.

“We may be a wild card, but I think people know that we’re also deadly serious,” Weinstein said on “Gimme Shelter, The California Housing Crisis Podcast.”

“And that we’re willing to put our money and our work where our mouth is.”

Weinstein argues that SB 50, authored by San Francisco Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, would accelerate the gentrification and displacement of low-income communities of color throughout the state by allowing more residential development in transit corridors.

When asked if he would oppose the bill even if it completely exempted such communities from more housing density, Weinstein said he would, citing the importance of local control over housing decisions and the need for more housing reserved exclusively for lower-income Californians.

“If you hate zoning and planning, go to Houston or go to Bangkok,” said Weinstein. “The cities that we cherish the most for how beautiful they are have zoning.”

On this episode of “Gimme Shelter,” CALmatters’ Matt Levin and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon talk with Weinstein and state Sen. Nancy Skinner, Democrat from Berkeley, about the future of  controversial housing legislation and rent control in California.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.