Complexities in the proposed rent control ballot measure kept the City Council and staff in their seats into the wee Wednesday morning hours tweaking the measure until a passing 5-1-2 vote could be taken. The measure will go before the voters Nov. 7.
Voting for the ballot language was the progressive bloc: Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek, and councilmembers Linda Maio, Margaret Breland, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington. Councilmember Betty Olds voted in opposition and Councilmember Polly Armstrong and Mayor Shirley Dean abstained. Councilmember Diane Woolley was absent.
The ballot measure, patterned after one passed by San Francisco voters, is designed to protect renters over 60 and the disabled from landlords moving into their apartments. Renters age 60 and over and the disabled who have been living in a unit for at least five years, may not be removed by a landlord who wants to move into the apartment.
The measure will also protect long-term renters – those who have lived in a unit for five years where the landlord has a 10 percent ownership in five or more residential units in the city.
Voting on the measure was complex. Councilmember Linda Maio owns a house she rents out and Mayor Shirley Dean owns three units of housing. This ownership meant that each would be in conflict under certain language in the measure.
Maio fought successfully against the proposed section of the measure that said a landlord who owns a single unit would not be able to move their children into it.
“It just wasn’t acceptable,” Maio said. “At some point, if push comes to shove, I would want my kids to move in (my rental house).”
Several motions were brought up and shot down in an hour-long wrestling match to allow Maio to vote on the measure.
Councilmember Betty Olds objected to the maneuvering of the progressives to get the passing vote.
“You can’t vote because of a conflict of interest, then you let them vote to clear up that conflict. It’s mind-boggling,” she said. “I think it will be challenged.”
The ballot measure will include a subsection that landlords must pay $4,500 to low-income tenants whom they displace.
Critics say that the measure going on the ballot is much too complicated and punishes landlords.
“The whole purpose is to protect the seniors and the disabled, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do. (Now) it’s too complex and vindictive. They’ve added so much language to punish the landlords,” Olds said.
She added that the discussion came very late in the evening and that the council was harried.
“Nobody knows what they voted for,” she said. “There should be a law against attempting to create a measure or law after 11 p.m.”
Al Sukoff, a property owner in Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Property Owners Association said he and the BPOA obviously oppose the measure and called it an “egregious usurpation of the rights of property owners.”
Sukoff said it will probably result in litigation.
Other Berkeleyans celebrated the passage.
Councilmember Worthington said that it has been a “phenomenal public process.”
“I’m thrilled. We almost got it in ‘98, but we ran into a time crunch. Then it came back up and has appeared on the agenda about seven times. We would keep getting comments from the public and we would make minor adjustments to try to accommodate (them). So we’ve been working on it for months. Now it will finally go to the voters,” he said.
Some lamented the small changes, but still support the measure.
“Frankly I think it’s a weakened ordinance,” said progressive rent board slate nominee Paul Hogarth. “The changes are minor, but the overwhelming majority of the ordinance is there.
“Even though the language was slightly changed, I think it will protect thousands,” said Rent Board Member Stephanie Bernay.
“I think when you step back and compare what you could have, to actually what you got, it’s not bad,” she said. “The tenants of Berkeley are the winners. This ordinance will help every single student.”