Before taking a night flight to sit in Michelle Obama’s box for the State of the Union, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spent January 27 in Sacramento meeting with key legislators about stopping speculator evictions under the Ellis Act. Lee met with both Assembly Speaker John Perez and State Senator Leader Darrell Steinberg, along with a top aide to Governor Brown. He also met with State Senator Mark Leno, who will be leading the city’s efforts to protect residents from Ellis Act abuse. It’s not often that a big city mayor goes door to door meeting with state legislators, and Lee’s visits have gotten the Ellis Act reform campaign off to a good start.

Timing is everything in Sacramento, which is why Mayor Ed Lee’s visit at the start of the legislative session sent a powerful message that this is the top city priority The Mayor explained how speculators are misusing the Ellis Act, causing great hardship to vulnerable tenants.

Lee’s low-key approach resonated with legislators, who appeared to appreciate his coming to their offices personally to discuss the city’s Ellis Act plans. In addition to meeting with the current year’s legislative leaders, Lee also met with their planned successors, Toni Adkins of San Diego in the Assembly, and Los Angeles’ Kevin de Leon in the Senate.

Ellis Act speculators are likely to wage a major campaign to sway legislators, but my own experience in Sacramento is that initial takes are revealing. Democratic legislators are unlikely to flat out say they will oppose a tenant bill, but in my work on the renters tax credit and getting the exemption of SRO’s from Ellis we ran into less than supportive responses from the outset that later translated into no votes.

Mayor Lee did not get any responses that suggested that the legislator was already inclined to oppose Ellis reform. And that’s a very good sign.

The Ellis bill’s formal introduction awaits final drafting by Leno’s office. It will allow San Francisco to require owners to hold properties for years before "going out of the rental housing business" under Ellis. The measure would effectively kill speculator evictions, and end the strategy of buying a building and then "going out of business" the next day.

The statewide tenants group Tenants Together is sponsoring a march, rally and Renters’ Day of Action on February 18 in Sacramento to show support for Ellis Act reform. Supporters who are available to go to Sacramento that day are strongly encouraged to attend.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.