Although not on the agenda, arguments over rent control dominated the discussion Wednesday at a San Diego City Council committee meeting.

Signage brought to Wednesday’s meeting by tenant activists.

Scores of public speakers – both for and against rent control – appeared before the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, which includes four City Council members.

The meeting was designed to focus on anti-displacement, Section 8 vouchers and issues surrounding the expiration of San Diego’s affordable housing stock.

That didn’t matter to San Diego Tenants United, a media-savvy but hastily organized tenant-advocacy group that took an aggressive stance in hijacking part of Wednesday’s discussion.

Its members were rude and demanding when addressing the committee and the property management representatives in the audience. This tone was not well-received by the public officials, who had to call for calm in the crowd more than once.

The tenant activists presented a petition calling for rent control, saying they had 11,000 signatures. They also requested that rent increases in the city be capped at 2 percent. Joining in their demands were members of community organizing groups such as Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, and the labor union UNITE HERE.

Before the hearing started, San Diego Tenants United held a rally outside City Hall, calling for an emergency rent control ordinance. It was well-covered by local media, giving a false public impression that City Council members would consider such an ordinance Wednesday. The group also garnered media attention in the preceding days, spurring many local “mom and pop” rental housing owners to attend the meeting and speak about the negative consequences rent control would bring.

The meeting was so well-attended that staff opened two overflow rooms. The California Apartment Association and other business groups, including the San Diego Association of Realtors, were on-hand to monitor the hearing and provide information. CAA had also initiated conversations with council staff prior to the meeting to explain the adverse effects of rent control.

While no action was taken Wednesday, committee Chairwoman Georgette Gomez said she expects to have action items ready when the committee meets again May 21.

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