Laurie capitelli
Laurie Capitelli. Photo: Laurie Capitelli for mayor

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli has filed a lawsuit challenging wording in a ballot measure argument that links him to business interests.

In a lawsuit filed Monday against the Berkeley city clerk, Mark Numainville, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, and others, Capitelli is asking that parts of the ballot argument in favor of Measure CC, which would raise the minimum wage, be struck.

Measure CC is one of two ballot measures concerning the minimum wage now scheduled for the November ballot. Measure CC would raise the wage to $15 by October 2017 and was placed on the ballot by a coalition of citizen and labor groups and was supported by Thurmond, as well as Jesse Arreguín, Kriss Worthington, and Max Anderson of the Berkeley City Council. (Arreguín and Worthington are also running for mayor). Measure BB proposes to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019.

The wording in the Measure CC argument states: “Measure BB was put on the ballot by Laurie Capitelli after intense lobbying by business groups.”

Capitelli contends that the language is “false and misleading,” because the council, not Capitelli himself, placed Measure BB on the ballot, according to the lawsuit.

There will be a hearing Thursday at 9 a.m. in Hayward to consider the matter. The wording must be finalized by 5 p.m. so the registrar of voters can send out ballot pamphlets.

“There was an outright misstatement and I want it removed,” said Capitelli. “Measure BB was put on by the City Council. Linda (Maio) and I introduced the measure. The implication was I was caving into intense lobbying by business. That’s not true.” Capitelli said many business owners actually lobbied against Measure BB.

After both measures were placed on the ballot, the City Council and labor groups worked out a compromise to raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $15 by October 2017, one year later than the Measure CC people wanted, and one year earlier than many business owners wanted. Now both sides will tell voters to vote ‘no” on the ballot measures.

The Daily Cal was the first news organization to report the lawsuit.

Berkeley agrees to change wording, order on business tax measures

This is the second lawsuit filed this year over ballot language. The Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition political action committee filed a lawsuit in mid-August demanding that the city of Berkeley correct the official ballot language of Measure U1, which would raise business taxes on rental units from 1.081% to 2.88%. Measure U1, which was put on the ballot by the city council, overstates the amount of tax that would be collected by more than 40%, or $1.6 million, according to the lawsuit.

The Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition has placed its own business tax measure on the November ballot. Measure DD would raise the rental unit revenue tax from its current level at 1.081% to 1.5%, significantly lower than Berkeley’s proposal. It would raise $1.4 million annually.

On Wednesday, both sides, under the eye of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Colwell, reached a stipulated agreement on the issues. Berkeley will now change its ballot wording and reduce the amount of new revenue it projects from Measure U1 from $3.9 million a year to an estimated range of $2.98 million to $3.45 million, according to court documents.

Berkeley has also agreed to amend Measure U1 to make clear it has exemptions, according to a press release put out by the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition, the group that brought the suit.  Berkeley’s measure would raise the business tax but would exempt new large new apartment complexes — both those recently built and future developments — for the first 12 years of occupancy, according to the press release. Measure DD treats all landlords equally. Now Measure U1 will say that future revenues will go up as new construction exemptions expire after 12 years.

Berkeley will also remove language that contends that landlords “are collecting an extraordinary $100 million a year above what is needed for a fair return.” Instead, the ballot measure will say, “This year Berkeley landlords collected $82 million more in rents than they did five years ago.” A similar change will appear in another ballot section.

The stipulated agreement also ensures  that Measure U1 and Measure DD appear next to one another on the ballot. Previously, Measure U1 was at the top of the ballot and Measure DD was at the back, “separated by eight measures,” according to the press release. Now Measure U1 will be immediately followed by Measure DD.

Editor’s note: This story was based on a tentative ruling submitted in court and was update once the final stipulated agreement was made available.

Landlord group sues Berkeley over rental tax initiative (08.19.16)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...