An apartment for rent on Spruce Street. If Prop. 10 passes and Costa Hawkins is repealed, those on the rent board will likely oversee more rental properties. Photo by Melati Citrawireja

Voters will be choosing from eight candidates to fill five open seats on Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board in the November election. Four of the five are incumbents. Rent board terms are four years, with a maximum of two terms per board member.

Five of the candidates are running as a pro-tenant slate. This includes all of the incumbents. Of the three additional candidates, two call themselves sympathetic to landlords and tenants.

The eight candidates running this year include incumbents James Chang, Paola Laverde, Maria Poblet and John Selawsky. One candidate, Judy Hunt, previously served a term on the board and lost in a re-election bid two years ago. The other three candidates are newcomers to the office: Soli Alpert, David Buchanan and William “Three Hundred” Barclay Caldeira.

Chang, Laverde, Poblet, Alpert and Selawsky are running on a shared progressive platform as the Community Power Slate. The slate’s campaign slogan in part is “Housing is a Human Right.” The slate wants to expand rent control.

Candidates Judy Hunt and David Buchanan both say they want a Rent Board that better balances representation of tenants and landlords, including owners of single-family homes. They say both are needed to address the need for more affordable housing.

Barclay Caldeira hasn’t responded to messages from Berkeleyside.

Rent issues have long history in Berkeley

The nine-member “Rent Board,” as it’s known, oversees the city’s rent control laws. This includes reviewing and voting on grievances from tenants and landlords.

The Rent Board’s mission is, in part, “to protect against unwarranted rent increases and evictions and to provide fair return to property owners.”

Rent issues have long burned hot in Berkeley, a city of housing shortages, high rents and lots of renters, including many students. An estimated one-third of Berkeley’s roughly 122,000 residents are students, most of whom rent. Berkeley voters passed rent control in 1980.

This year’s statewide Proposition 10 adds a rent control twist. Proposition 10, if passed, would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prevents rent control from covering housing built after the law was approved. The law also allows landlords to raise rents to market rates after a tenant vacates the property.

Costa-Hawkins collided with Berkeley’s local rent control in several ways as state law took precedent.

To prepare for Costa-Hawkins’ possible appeal, Berkeley put Measure Q on the November ballot, which asks voters to amend the city’s rent control ordinance if and only if Proposition 10 passes.

If Measure Q is approved by voters and Proposition 10 passes, it will return Berkeley to its more comprehensive system of rent control which was constrained by Costa-Hawkins. However, newly constructed buildings will be exempt from rent control for the first 20 years after building, and both accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and the main houses they’re attached to will be exempted permanently. Many large post-1995 buildings would be subject to rent control. Newer buildings, such as Parker Place or Stonefire, would not be subject to rent control until the 20-year interval passes.

The progressive slate supports Proposition 10. Buchanan opposes the measure. Hunt and Barclay Caldeira have not responded to Berkeleyside’s questions on Proposition 10.

Against this backdrop, the Rent Board candidates could find themselves helping to steer the ship that manages significant transitions in the city’s rent control. Even if Costa-Hawkins is upheld, the role of the Rent Board is always significant given the city’s pressing rental issues.

The candidates

Community Power Slate Rent Board candidates. From left, John Selawsky, Paola Laverde, James Chang, Maria Poblet, and Soli Alpert. Photo: Brooke Anderson.

Berkeleyside asked all candidates via email what makes them best qualified for the role as commissioner. We also asked if they support City Measure Q. Some weighed in; some didn’t. Their answers, sometimes excerpted for length, are below.

We also compiled information from the candidate’s city campaign information (which is in their own words) and other public information. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Soli Alpert

Occupation: Legislative Aide, Councilwoman Kate Harrison.

Previous public office: None.

Community service: Volunteer, San Francisco Jewish Home for the Aged

Why best qualified?  “I believe I am uniquely qualified among the candidates for Rent Board due to the skills I will bring to the job and the community I will represent. As a legislative assistant on the Berkeley City Council, I have significant experience drafting and amending municipal law such as those the Rent Board oversees, working with housing and rental data, and analyzing state housing law to discern its potential impact on Berkeley. This will allow me to work directly with Berkeley’s rental and housing laws, especially our rent control and tenant protection ordinances, to make sure that they are properly serving our community. As a UC Berkeley Senior, I will be able to convey the needs and priorities of a vastly under represented demographic on the rent board. In a previous count students accounted for about half of all Berkeley tenants, and that figure has likely risen. However, no student representative currently sits on the Rent Board. Students face challenges and needs as new renters that require specific types of assistance and outreach. If elected, I would be the first student elected to the rent board in a decade, since Mayor Jesse Arreguin was elected to the Board in 2008.”

Measure Q: “The Slate has not taken a position on Measure Q. I myself have gone back and forth. I am glad the new construction exemption is being redefined as a rolling window rather than by a fixed date, 20 years of exemption is far, far too long. I would be willing to accept 10, 15 years at the most, but 20 should not have been on the table. The second main part of the measure, the writ large exemption to newly constructed, owner occupied ADUs and their associated buildings from both rent and eviction controls goes way too far. It should have been a period of exemption after construction, and it should not have been a full exemption from eviction control. If Prop 10 passes, Measure Q is a mixed bag that I believe helps more than it harms. If Prop 10 fails to pass, however, Measure Q will only further deregulate at the expense of tenants.”

Candidate statement excerpt:

“Approximately half of Berkeley renters are students. More than one in 10 UC Berkeley students experience homelessness at some point during their tenure. Astronomical housing costs force students to choose between paying for rent, food, and school books. As a Senior at Cal and a legislative assistant for Councilmember Harrison, I want to continue in the strong tradition of student advocates on the Rent Board. All of Berkeley’s renters, whether students or not, are being forced to make tough choices just to get by. We need to do more to protect our most vulnerable residents. That starts with defending and expanding the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.”

William “Three Hundred” Barclay Caldeira

Occupation: Landscaper

Public office: Berkeley Homeless Commission

Community service: Unpaid groundskeeper/landskeeper Berkeley Public Safety Building; community garden/streetscape designer

Why best qualified? Barclay Caldeira hasn’t responded.

Candidate statement excerpt:

“The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board demands and collects exorbitant rental registration fees from Berkeley landlords. The Rent Board also pays thousands of dollars every year to lease luxury office space in a private commercial building. U.C. Berkeley has failed to build enough affordable housing for its student and employee population and the Rent Board. has not solved that problem. Working class people, college students, and senior citizens are some of the many tenants who should receive the full protections of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Ordinance. It is time for new leadership at the Rent Board.”

David Buchanan

Occupation: Investor/winemaker; Oakland landlord, Berkeley renter

Public office: None

Community service: Inspector or poll worker at all major elections since 2002

Why best qualified? “I am better qualified because I have been on both sides of the equation, as tenant (which I am currently) and as a landlord (which I am also currently). In addition, I spent decades as a homeowner, so I understand that perspective as well. I even bought a piece of dirt and did the whole construction thing from scratch, so I have some idea of what developers go through.”

Measure Q: “It’s sort of a mash-up of three different things, a bit of a Frankenstein. Part of it I support, part I do not. But I think it will be moot, as Prop 10 is unlikely to pass. I just thought it was dumb for the Council to put it on the ballot and signal their willingness to jump out ahead of every other city as far as squeezing anyone who dared to build new rental housing in Berkeley. If Prop 10 fails, then all the Council has managed to do is to signal hostility to new construction – hardly the way out of a crisis that is, at its heart, a problem of supply.”

Candidate statement excerpt:

“The Rent Board needs balance. Tenants should be protected, landlords should be represented, and homeowner’s interests protected. Presently, the Rent Board advocates only for tenants. A Board member in a board meeting recently compared the relationship between landlords and tenants to a form of slavery. This is way over the top. As a homeowner for more than 20 years, a current tenant in Berkeley and current landlord in Oakland, I can bring balance to the board. If Prop. 10 passes, your house is no longer excluded from rent control. Seniors who want to stay on their property need flexibility and protection. Most homeowners do not want the Rent Board in their house or in their yard (in the ADU). I am a Cal graduate. I will represent homeowner interests on the board. Bring sanity and balance to the Rent Board – and protect homeowner’s rights

James Chang – incumbent

Occupation: Legislative aide to City Councilman Kriss Worthington

Public Office: Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Housing Advisory Commissioner, Civic Arts Commissioner, Zero Waste Commissioner.

Community Service: Berkeley Tenants Union Member; Vice-President External Affairs/ Board Member Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC); Student Trustee Ventura County Community College District.

Why best qualified? “As the Chair of the Outreach Committee, I help expand our Resources, not just online, but also putting our staff on the front lines in helping people. As the Senior member of the Eviction Committee, I fought and won more funding for legal services for both tenants and property owners. On the Budget and Personnel Committee, I help establish a reserve fund, and for the first time in 3 years, we did not raise fees to pay for Operational Costs. As an openly LGBTQ API American, I believe in the same compassionate, progressive politics that supported me my entire life. I’m running because I want to ensure that all institutions are just and equitable.”

Measure Q: Supports Measure Q.

Candidate Statement excerpt:

“Berkeley is facing an affordability crisis. As a product of California’s public system, I want to continue to be your Rent Board Commissioner because I believe in the power of government in lifting people up. As Rent Board Outreach Committee Chair, I expanded our outreach efforts by making the Rent Board more accessible to property owners and tenants. On the Eviction Committee, I fought to increase funding for housing legal services and successfully lobbied the Berkeley City Council to increase funding for free legal aid services. My commitment as a leader is to continue amplifying the People’s Voice! I want to be your champion in fighting for our community.”

Judy Hunt

Occupation: Nonprofit Executive Consultant; Berkeley landlord

Public Office: Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging, Berkeley Board of Library Trustees

Community Service: Alameda County Leadership Academy; Poll Worker, Alameda County Registrar of Voters; Member, Alumni Council, Head Royce School

Why best qualified? Note: Hunt sent us her answers to a similar question asked by the Daily Cal, saying she has time constraints right now because of an urgent health matter of a family member.

  • I represent a constituency that is currently missing on the Rent Board – housing providers.
  • A seasoned advocate for older adult tenants and property owners.
  • African American property owners who also experience displacement via the unintended consequences of public policies that lead to gentrification of South and West Berkeley.
  • I represent women, especially women of color, who are aging in Berkeley.
  • Knowledge of the historical evolution of housing in Berkeley and the need for housing policies that reflect inclusive and equitable change.
  • Experienced executive with national and international organizations, that provide reference points of housing strategies that work with various ethnic groups in rural, urban, suburban and university communities.
  • Former Rent Board Commissioner and former Chair of the Eviction, Section 8 & Foreclosure Committee.

Candidate Statement excerpt:  

“Berkeley residents need safe stable housing that is affordable for all income levels. Studios, one to three bedroom apartments, condominiums, duplexes, single-family homes and accessory dwelling units (in-law cottages) are all housing options that fulfill a variety of needs for: families with young children and adolescents, college students, immigrants, single and married middle aged and older adults. Our vulnerable neighbors who are homeless, challenged with dual diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse require secure residences with consistent, therapeutic services. Displacement affects tenants and older adult property owners who face increased regulations that strain their resources.

Stakeholders’ participation in decision-making requires representatives who develop realistic public policies. Rent Stabilization Board commissioners should respect all citizens: property owners, tenants, landlords, developers, builders and realtors. Every perspective has merit. Increasing the supply of housing for moderate and low-income people requires developers, builders and realtors. Small and large rental property owners provide essential shelter despite increasing property maintenance costs. Single-family homeowners need flexibility addressing their personal circumstances.”

Paola Laverde – incumbent

Occupation: State of California public information officer

Public Office: Rent Stabilization Board, vice-chair

Community Service: Pro bono interpreter, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Interpreted in two successful political asylum cases of women seeking refuge from domestic violence.

Why best qualified? “In light of the mission of the Rent Board, it is particularly significant that I have had first-hand experience with the power imbalance present in today’s rental housing industry. I have been displaced twice as a renter. In fact, it was an Ellis eviction from San Francisco that brought me to Berkeley. Three years later, when I was six months pregnant, my husband and I were harassed out of our apartment after new owners took over. Notwithstanding those experiences, as a rent board commissioner deciding appeals, I have ruled in favor of both landlords and tenants, based on Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, as applied to the facts of the cases before me. I take pride in the fact that I rule fairly and impartially. My accomplishments as a Rent Board Commissioner include updating Berkeley’s Municipal Code so that disabled tenants are provided alternative housing when the elevators in their buildings are nonfunctional. I also expanded the Rent Board’s outreach efforts on social media by creating the ‘Tip of the Month’ landlord/tenant information page.”

Measure Q: “I am on the fence about measure Q. I like that fact that, overall, measure Q will extend rent stabilization and eviction for good cause protections to many more tenants who are currently not covered under the law. I don’t like the fact it will create new exemptions where tenants will not be protected. I will probably hold my nose as I cast my vote in favor of Measure Q and will work towards amending the law to protect more tenants in the future.”

Candidate Statement excerpt:

“I want to continue to be your Rent Board Commissioner because my work to make a positive, progressive difference in Berkeley is still not done. As chair of the Habitability Committee, I succeeded in updating Berkeley’s elevator code which improved protections for disabled tenants. As a member of the Outreach Committee, I created the ‘Tip of the Month’ program which expanded the Rent Board’s outreach on social media. On behalf of Berkeley tenants, I lobbied in Sacramento for the repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act because this law is the reason why rents are so damn high! Expanding the Rent Stabilization Ordinance and keeping Berkeley a place we can all call home is my goal.”

Maria Poblet – incumbent

Occupation: Nonprofit Director

Public Office: Rent Stabilization Board (Appointed in 2017 to replace Katherine Harr).

Community Service: Ninth Street Housing Cooperative; Founding Executive Director Causa Justa Just Cause; Bay Resistance, Bay Rising; Alameda County Immigrant Legal Education Program, World March of Women.

Why best qualified? “I am ready to serve the community of Berkeley, contributing the skills and perspective I have gained through 18 years of housing rights organizing in black, Latino and working class communities in the Bay Area. Those who came before me built the community land trust affordable housing complex that I live in and co-manage, and helped ensure our city has beautiful public parks, excellent schools and wonderful libraries. I want to pay it forward so that future generations are not priced out and are able to thrive in Berkeley. I am well positioned to continue the work I led as chair of the Evictions, Public Housing and Section 8 committee for the last year. I bring a community-based perspective to the work of public office.”

Measure Q:  “If Prop 10 passes, I support measure Q, because it would expand the protections for tenants vulnerable to displacement. However, I am very concerned about how measure Q was written, because in the instance that Prop 10 does not pass and Prop Q does pass, the net outcome wouldn’t be tenant protection at all, it would be only the permanent exemption of ADUs from rent control.”

Candidate Statement excerpt:

“Berkeley tenants are facing rising rents, which are pushing them out of their homes and out of Berkeley. I am fortunate to live in an affordable housing cooperative that was built by the generation that came before me, which allows me to raise a family here, enjoying our excellent public parks, and education system. I want to pay it forward and make sure future generations of low and moderate incomes can live and thrive in Berkeley. As chair of the Committee on Evictions, I strengthened our collaboration with community organizations providing free eviction defense legal services to the most vulnerable in our community. I want to continue to bring a community-based perspective to our work of defending and expanding the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.”

John Selawsky – incumbent

Occupation: Rent Board Commissioner, chair

Public Office: Rent Stabilization Board; Berkeley School Board; Zoning Adjustment Board; BOLT (Library Board); Community Environmental Advisory Commission

Community Service: People’s Park Advisory Committee; BUSD Planning and Oversight Committee; Ashby BART Task Force

Why best qualified? “I am the current Chair of the Rent Board, selected by my colleagues for 2 consecutive years… We face a crisis in housing affordability and I want to and will work to do everything possible to find solutions that work for Berkeley. I care deeply about the City I call home. I want others to be able to live, work, and raise families here. People of all economic backgrounds and all life experiences.”

Candidate Statement excerpt:

“Rent control and eviction protections maintain stable, diverse communities. The Rent Board’s mandate is to uphold and protect the Rent Control and Just Cause Ordinances, and I pledge to do that in my second term. I refer to endorsers Gus Newport, former Mayor of Berkeley, and Christina Livingston, California Affordable Housing Act. I was chosen at the Berkeley Tenants Convention by a coalition of tenants, homeowners, and landlords. I am a 31-year resident of Berkeley and the only senior on the Board.”

Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...