Although the impact of Berkeley’s rent-control ordinance has been blunted by vacancy decontrols adopted by the state in the late-1990s — rent-controlled units now rise to market rates when a tenant moves out — rent control is not dead. Nine candidates are vying for six slots on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. Ranked-choice voting does not apply.
A six-member pro-tenant slate, elected at a tenants convention in July, includes incumbents Lisa Stephens, the rent board chair; Alternative Tentacles Records General Manager Jesse Townley; editor David Blake; California Shakespeare Theater patron services manager Pamela Webster; and Eviction Defense Collaborative employee Katherine Harr. Landscape designer Asa Dodsworth is running to replace Howard Chong, who is termed out of office. The slate is endorsed by and shares a campaign office with council incumbents Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin.
Challenging the slate are restaurant manager George Perezvelez and Housing Commissioner Marcia Levenson. Tamar Larsen’s name will appear on the ballot but she said she is not campaigning for the office.
Speaking for the slate, incumbent Stephens said the rent board is already doing much of what other candidates say they want to do. She said the board’s first job is to implement the law, which is to approve the annual rental rate adjustment and hear appeals. She said the board and staff are involved in outreach, going to senior centers and other community forums, to educate the community on rental issues. She said the board is working with the city council to write laws addressing habitability issues, such as getting gas heater inspections, requiring carbon monoxide detectors, and requiring seismic upgrades on soft-story buildings. Stephens said the board has been working especially hard on issues of foreclosure and eviction since the economic downturn. The Berkeley rent law protects tenants when a building is foreclosed.
Perezvelez, who chairs the Police Review Commission, is endorsed by Mayor Tom Bates and the city council’s so-called “moderate” voting bloc. Perezvelez wanted the tenants convention’s endorsement but was eliminated from the running when he said he wouldn’t back the slate. “I’m a gay, Hispanic man and can’t be defined by any slate,” he said, adding that he’s refused to take campaign funds from renters and landlords who’ve approached him. He’s financing his campaign with a $2,000 loan to himself. He believes the current rent board is over-focused on issues such as fees and rent increases. He says the board should do more outreach to minority communities, including monthly community forums, focusing on rental issues and affordable housing. Perezvelez said he’s rented much of his life and is now a homeowner.
Levenson says a seat on the rent board would enhance her work as Housing Advisory commissioner. She competed unsuccessfully for the rent board slate, but decided to run independently. One of her priorities would be making sure that rental units are occupied. “It’s unconscionable that units sit empty while thousands of people don’t have homes,” Levenson said. Her priorities on the board would be improving habitability and enacting a tenant anti-harassment ordinance.