Many years ago, at UCLA, Richard “Tod” Spieker was an All-America swimmer, whose legacy was enshrined when the school’s state-of-the-art aquatics center was named after him. Today, in 2020, Spieker, a multi-millionaire landlord in Palo Alto, is a standout in another way. He’s one of the leading figures inside Big Real Estate’s multi-million-dollar campaign to kill Proposition 21.
California’s Prop 21 is a statewide ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rents. It’s an urgent response to the state’s ongoing housing affordability and homelessness crises, which have worsened due to the financial devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the outbreak hit, top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agreed that rent control is a crucial tool to stabilize the housing affordability crisis.
“The housing crisis requires a range of strategies,” explained University of Southern California Professor Manuel Pastor, co-author of the USC Dornsife’s Rent Matters report, “[and] moderate rent regulation is a useful tool to be nested in broader strategy. It has fewer damaging effects than are often imagined, it can address economic pain, and it can promote housing stability. And housing stability matters because it is associated with physical, social, and psychological well-being; higher educational achievement by the young; and benefits for people of color.”
Those words hold even more true today — the pandemic has slammed people of color the hardest in California, according to a recent UCLA study.
What’s Tod Spieker’s response? So far, he’s shelled out a whopping $668,641 to stop Prop 21, including two large checks of $255,840 and $203,893 to Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association, the landlord lobbying powerhouse.
The CAA-backed committee is leading the opposition of Prop 21. To date, it has raised a staggering $25.6 million — and created an “executive committee,” made up of Big Real Estate executives, that’s calling the shots for the No on 21 campaign. Guess who’s one of those executives? Tod Spieker.
The executive committee also includes CAA CEO Tom Bannon, Equity Residential executive and CAA board president Barry Altshuler, and Essex Property Trust executive and CAA board member John Eudy. When you see TV ads this fall smearing Prop 21, think of those millionaires who are working behind the scenes to scare and confuse California voters.
Spieker has a disturbing history of opposing rent limits and rent control policies, particularly in Mountain View — through Spieker Companies, he owns nearly 3,000 rental units in and around the Silicon Valley.
In 2018, Spieker Companies contributed at least $55,000 to a Mountain View ballot measure that would have overturned the city’s rent control law. The initiative, however, failed to get enough signatures to be placed on the ballot. Tod Spieker also delivered, in 2018, at least $2,000 to a Mountain View City Council candidate whose entire campaign revolved around his opposition to rent control.
Then, in 2020, Spieker plunked down another $50,000 for another local ballot measure in Mountain View that again attempted to change the city’s rent control law. That lost, too — and resoundingly: nearly 69 percent of voters opposed the initiative.
And back in 2016, this time in San Mateo, Spieker shelled out $50,000 to successfully stop a rent control ballot measure. The California Apartment Association, which aggressively opposes renter protections throughout the state, chipped in $531,798 to kill the initiative.
There was also Prop 10, the 2018 ballot measure that sought to expand local rent control policies throughout California. Spieker Companies gave a hefty $1.1 million to the victorious No on Prop 10 campaign, which utilized a statewide TV ad campaign, funded by real estate power players such as Spieker, to trick voters.
Spieker has spent big bucks to try to rig the system in landlords’ favor or to stop protections that renters desperately needed as California’s housing affordability crisis spiralled out of control. That’s the way Tod Spieker works: this year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he again worked the system, grabbing between $1 million and $2 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds.
These days, Spieker and the other Big Real Estate honchos on the No on 21 executive committee are scheming to roll out another deceitful campaign. Real estate giants such as Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, and Invitation Homes have already shelled out millions in cash to Californians for Responsible Housing sponsored by the California Apartment Association.
The Yes on 21 movement, however, is ready to bring the fight to them. A broad coalition of civic leaders, social justice groups, labor unions, and housing justice organizations, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, continues to gain momentum. For them, as the pandemic rages on, Californians must be protected against unfair, sky-high rent increases so they can keep their homes and stay healthy. It’s literally a matter of life or death.
Judging from his track record, Tod Spieker doesn’t care about seniors on fixed incomes and working-class families struggling to make ends meet because of astronomical rents. He just wants to keep making millions — no matter who gets hurt.