The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board is seeking applications for a seat on its board, which has opened up because Commissioner Katherine Harr has resigned.
Harr, who has been a commissioner for almost seven years, stepped down Jan. 31 citing family and health issues. She also stated in her resignation letter that she and her husband may be moving out of Berkeley.
Harr has been a fierce advocate for tenants during her time on the board. She is closely involved with the Berkeley Tenants Union and has spent many hours documenting landlords who are illegally renting out their apartments on Airbnb and other services. She was a supporter of 2016’s Measure AA, which increased the relocation fees landlords had to pay when evicting tenants, and also limited evictions during the school year for families with children. She also supported Measure U1, which raised the business license tax on landlords.
“She was absolutely amazing,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, who is also a Rent Board commissioner. “She inspired me to run. She devoted a lot of time to the Rent Board. She was very active. She will be gravely missed.”
Traditionally, the Rent Board has been a stepping stone to higher office in Berkeley, so there will probably be many applications for the vacant seat, said Jay Kelekian, the executive director. Wesley Hester, Betty Olds, Max Anderson, and current Mayor Jesse Arreguín all went from the Rent Board to the City Council.
The board is accepting applications for Harr’s seat through 5 p.m. on Feb. 22, said Kelekian. (Those submitted by then will be included in the agenda packet for the Rent Board; late applications will be handed out to commissioners at the Feb. 27 meeting.) Applicants must live, and vote, in Berkeley. To apply, candidates must submit a letter of 500 or fewer words detailing his/her background and why she or he wants to serve on the board.
“The Board wishes to set up an open and transparent selection process that considers all qualified candidates,” John Selawsky, the Rent Board president said in a press release.
Harr also encouraged people to apply.
“I have resigned for personal reasons,” Harr wrote on Facebook. “The Rent Board is going to appoint someone and they are taking applications until February 22. I actually knew no one when I was appointed to the Board seven years ago — but I was qualified. I encourage all to apply and will post more info soon.”
On Feb. 27, the Rent Board will gather to narrow down the number of applicants. Each commissioner will be able to nominate up to two people for the seat, said Kelekian.
Once a list of finalists is compiled, a subcommittee of four members of the board will vet the nominees. Kelekian said a new commissioner will be selected March 20. That person will serve until Nov. 20, 2018, and will have to run for election if he or she wants to retain the seat.
The last time there was a vacancy on the board (when Jack Harrison died in 2009) all the applicants were vetted and it took four months to select a new commissioner (who happened to be Harr), said Kelekian. The board thinks this will be a more efficient process.
The board will honor Harr at its March 20 meeting.
In addition to the 500-word statement about their candidacy, all applications must include the candidate’s full legal name, current living address (post office boxes will not be accepted), telephone and other contact numbers. The applications may be mailed or dropped off at the Rent Board offices at 2125 Milvia St., Berkeley 94704, to the attention of Jen Fabish. Applicants can also email Fabish at firstname.lastname@example.org. All applications are public documents.