Rent control battle in Santa Cruz heats up as "racially charged" fliers are circulated

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- The battle over ballot Measure M, which would enact rent control in the city of Santa Cruz, is getting even more divisive.

What some people are calling a "racially charged" flier was handed out at a recent event about the housing crisis in Santa Cruz County.

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The man behind the controversial fliers told ABC7 News that his posters had nothing to do with race.

Longtime landlord Darius Mohsenin said it all started with his concern over Measure M and a Google search.

"Googled 'gang images.' I had some for the Aryan Brotherhood and some for MS-13," Mohsenin said.

He put those pictures on fliers with the message, "Meet your new neighbors," written across the top. Mohsenin said the posters were in response to a specific portion of Measure M, which would ultimately prevent landlords from evicting any tenant who brings in a number of family members.

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The Measure M text reads:

Protections for Families. Notwithstanding any contrary provision in this Section, a Landlord shall not take any action to terminate a tenancy as a result of the addition to the Rental Unit of a Tenant's child, foster child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, or the spouse or partner of such relatives, or as a result of the addition of the spouse or partner of a Tenant, so long as the number of occupants does not exceed the maximum number of occupants as determined under Section 503(b) of the Uniform Housing Code as incorporated by California Health & Safety Code 17922. The Board may promulgate regulations that will further protect families and promote stability for school-aged children.

Mohsenin said, "When you lose control over your unit, who lives there, how long they stay there, how many people can be in the unit..that's a real problem."

ABC7 News has chosen to blur images of Mohsenin's fliers. Critics told ABC7 News that Mohsenin's message is clear.

"He's talking to the sort of, like, underlying racism that is very present in Santa Cruz. That maybe people aren't willing to admit," said Zav Hershfield with Students United with Renters.

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Hershfield claims that when Mohsenin showed up to UCSC's "No Place Like Home" event in late October, Hershfield is certain Mohsenin only brought the flier with MS-13 gang members pictured.

Hershfield said only after people confronted Mohsenin did the landlord print out more fliers showing the Aryan Brotherhood.

Hershfield said Mohsenin's actions show he connects people of color to crime.

"Darius is basically saying with this flier, if Measure M passes, gang members, drug dealers, brown people are going to be able to move next door to you," Hershfield said.

On Friday, he and a couple dozen others who support Measure M led a march against Mohsenin with the event name "March Against Racist Slumlords."

Mohsenin told ABC7 News, "I apologize to anybody that may have been offended. It obviously was a mistake that backfired, but the intent was to really get across what this ballot measure could allow to bring in as far as your neighbors concern."

"We don't want to hear from him," Hershfield responded. "We want to see substantive motion against the white supremacy he was espousing in his flier."

Hershfield said Measure M supporters don't want the apology. Instead, he said those who oppose the measure aren't doing enough to distance themselves from Mohsenin.

The measure goes to vote on Tuesday Nov. 6.
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