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Court Holds Three Hour Rent Referendum Hearing; Ruling Likely Next Week

By Thomas P. Southwick

Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Henry Leen heard three hours of testimony about the proposed Cambridge rent control referendum yesterday but made no decision about whether to place rent control on the November 4 election ballot.

Leen will receive the briefs from lawyers representing both sides on Monday. A final decision is not expected until Wednesday. If a referendum is ordered the delay will mean the Cambridge Election Commission will have to print a separate ballot for the 22-page proposal. Both the referendum and the election will be held on November 4 but on different ballots.

After a one hour private meeting with the attorneys, Leen decided to accept written affidavits from interested parties but to permit only City Manager James L. Sullivan and City Solicitor Philip M. Cronin 53 to testify in person.

Cronin, whose decision that the rent control bill was illegal prompted the Election Commission to refuse it a place on the ballot, told the court that the bill as written is not only "illegal and unconstitutional, but totally unrelated to the problem in Cambridge." He said that the bill violates section 89 of the Massachuserts Constitution which states that no community may enact legislation providing for shelter unless the Massachusetts General Court declares a state of emergency.

Cronin also said that the provision of the bill which appropriates $150,000 to enforce the law is illegal "since only the City Manager can appropriate money in the City of Cambridge."

Two separate petitions asked the court to overturn the ruling of the Election Commission. Boston attorney Alan Rosenberg, representing members of the Rent Control Referendum Committee-including Hilary Putnam, Professor of Philosophy-said that very legal requirement has been met by the committee. He argued that the sole duty of the Election Commission is to determine if all requirements have been met and not to decide the legality of the proposed ordinance.

Attorney John G.S. Flynn, representing the Cambridge Housing Convention, re-

peated Rosenberg's arguments. He cited the Massachusetts statute on referenda which states that once all legal requirements have been met "the referendum shall go on the ballot." He pointed out that the statute makes no reference to the legality of the bill itself.

Sullivan, the only other person to appear before the hearing, testified that a survey by the City of 500 apartments showed that 67 per cent did not have any rent increase in 1968. Cronin used this testimony to show that an emergency situation does not exist in Cambridge and said "there is nothing to justify a declaration of emergency in Cambridge."

Rosenberg countered by citing cases where rents have increased by as much as 150 per cent in the last five of six years.

Over 50 members of the Cambridge Peace and Freedom Party, which sponsored the referendum campaign, jammed the galleries of the courtroom. A detail of state troopers was on hand in the morning to guard against disturbances but left after the noon recess. There were no disturbances.

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