Pro-Tenant Rent Board Majority May Be Unseated

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Although the Rent Stabilization Board has implemented rent control policies independently from the Berkeley City Council since the mid-1980s, increasing opposition to the board's pro-tenant slate has given rise to what some commissioners say is, for the first time in years, a serious attempt to disrupt the board's progressive majority - a move that also mirrors the council's own changing dynamics.

Five current commissioners - Dave Blake, Katherine Harr, Lisa Stephens, Jesse Townley and Pam Webster - and challengers Asa Dodsworth, Tamar Larsen, Marcia Levenson and George Perezvelez are running to fill six of the board's nine commission seats. As the Nov. 2 elections approach, a formidable opposition to the board's pro-tenant slate has surfaced, challenging the security of the board's progressive majority.

Mayor Tom Bates and five council members - Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak - have endorsed Perezvelez, a restaurant manager who serves on the city's Commission on Labor and is currently chair of the Police Review Commission. Wozniak has also endorsed Larsen in addition to Perezvelez, making him the only one of the six to endorse more than one candidate for the board.

Councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington have endorsed the pro-tenant slate selected by the Berkeley Tenants Convention, which includes Dodsworth and the five commissioners seeking reelection.

"To some degree this is positioning itself to see if the mayor and his allies on the right side of the council will be able to break the tenant majority," Blake said, adding that the majority of the current board is allied with the progressive minority on the council. "I think (Bates) just wants to feel that he hasn't got anybody out there who's going to challenge him on other things."

Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said there is a more moderate force running in this year's election that, if elected, could hold the board "more accountable."

"As an independent body, they've sort of created their own little playgrounds without any oversight and that hasn't worked," Lakireddy said.

He added that in recent years the board has created "very expensive" positions for friends, while also running a yearly surplus of almost $500,000, which he said should instead be used to improve the city's other housing and outreach programs.

According to Stephen Barton, deputy director for the Rent Stabilization Program, the board's surplus is set aside for disaster relief, software upgrades and other special projects that are not implemented on a regular basis.

"Everybody runs a surplus ... because by law you have to," Blake said. "We have a very prudent surplus, and any government runs a considerable surplus to make sure if you screw up, you don't have to go borrow money."

Since the state-mandated Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995 established a system of "vacancy decontrol" to ensure property owners could align rates with market values at the time of vacancy by a tenant, major policy debates have been virtually eliminated, and the presence of a pro-landlord slate - which typically leans toward the center or the right of Berkeley politics - has been nonexistent.

"We're a body that's put into place to ensure that there is some sort of economic justice in city government ... we have to lean to the left," Townley said.

Though Perezvelez said he has been told he is not "progressive enough," he added that the pro-tenant slate should not necessarily be defined as the "progressive" candidates, since the Costa-Hawkins act in many ways eliminated the need for a pro-landlord slate.

"The whole thing about who's progressive and who's not ... is extremely problematic," he said. "The issue should be how do we, Democrats or Greens, liberals or progressives get together and have viable discussion to move things forward."

He also said the board should no longer only be defined along pro-tenant or pro-landlord lines and should instead represent the city's different communities that cannot be so easily divided into the two categories.

"There is a disconnect between the rent board and minority communities in the city, and ... it needs to be diverse, and that's one of the major things I'm running for," Perezvelez said. "The diversity of elected officials is what makes us real - it's what makes Berkeley real."

Noor Al-Samarrai of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Stephanie Baer is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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