Two disabled veterans living in an apartment complex at 526 and 528 California Ave. received eviction notices when the property was purchased by a new landlord, Dan Decker. The notices were given to every tenant on the premises on housing assistance, demanding they leave by Oct. 31. 

Decker ultimately rescinded the notices due to their violation of the temporary rent freeze and just cause eviction ordinance passed in Santa Cruz in February.

“If that temporary law hadn’t been passed, there’d be very little in the way of legal options for these folks to actually stay in the apartments they currently live in,” said rent control organizer Zav Hershfield, who helped author Measure M. The measure would implement a rent control board and just cause eviction in Santa Cruz.

Veterans Albert Brett, Logan McCann and John Doty, along with Hershfield and Brett’s spouse Donna Robles, hosted a press conference on Oct. 15 to raise awareness of the loose grasp they and others have on their housing. 

“The new landlord has no sense of humanity, none whatsoever,” said McCann, a longtime Transportation and Parking Services employee at UC Santa Cruz. “He’s just come in and he’s trying to bully us every chance he can.”

Decker also removed “Yes on M” campaign signage from the property, claiming it was illegal for tenants to post  them.

McCann, who also lives at the California Avenue apartment complex, said he did not receive an eviction notice like the other veterans, but Decker had offered him $5,000 to move out of the complex. While the tenants are protected by the temporary ordinance, the landlord would be free to issue new eviction notices should Measure M, the local rent control ordinance on the ballot, fail to pass on Nov. 6.

“I think it’s unconscionable that you can throw veterans out on the street. To go where?” said Brett, who is fighting a losing battle with pancreatic cancer. “[…] It’s sad, I can’t afford to live here without some assistance, and I’m 100 percent disabled and I get social security. In any other community, I would be moderate income, if not upwardly moderate. Here in this community, I’m considered a  pauper.”

The panel expressed particular concern over the sizable resources of the campaign against Measure M, Santa Cruz Together. The campaign is funded in part by large donations from out of town interest groups such as the California Apartment Association, the California Association of Realtors (CAR) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR). 

About half of Santa Cruz Together’s funds came from CAR and NAR. In comparison, the campaign for Measure M has raised roughly $38,000 in funds, only about 5 percent of Santa Cruz Together’s  $750,000. 

The panel stressed that in the face of such a severe funding disparity between campaigns, the community must band together in a grassroots movement to reject the influence of outside money on Santa Cruz politics.

“What I find is, we need to get a group conscience in this community […],” Brett said. “If you want to have a kind city, it’s got to happen now.”