In a bit of political theater that could reverberate in the District 3 City Council race, Councilmember Maudelle Shirek infuriated several progressives Tuesday by casting the deciding vote against a proposal to strengthen the rights of tenants facing evictions.
Her vote left the council deadlocked in a tie, effectively killing the proposal. But Shirek then agreed to a proposal from the four councilmembers in support of the plan to reconsider it next week when Councilmember Margaret Breland, a likely supporter, is scheduled to be in attendance.
“Who could have imagined that Maudelle would vote against tenants’ rights?” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington after the meeting. “If [Breland] doesn’t come next week, we should cancel the council meeting.”
Worthington is one of the more left-leaning members of the council who have withdrawn their long-standing support for Shirek, in favor of challenger Max Anderson.
At issue Tuesday was a proposal from the rent board to increase the payment landlords must make to low income tenants when they choose to exit the rental housing business. The ordinance would have also expanded the law to include senior citizens and disabled tenants.
When the state passed the Ellis Act in 1986, Berkeley required landlords who took their units off the market to pay all tenants $4,500 to offset the increase in rent, moving costs and other fees the displaced tenants were likely to face. A 1992 court case forced the city to apply the rule only to low-income tenants as defined by guidelines set by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Ellis Act is designed to protect tenants from landlords eager to empty rent controlled apartments either to sell the units or to rent them out again later at a market rent. Since 1986 was passed 271 units in Berkeley have been taken off the market under the law.
The rent board proposed setting the new rate at $7,000. Rent Board Commissioner Paul Hogarth told the council that other cities have increased allotments as prices have risen and extended the benefit to the elderly and the disabled.
While most of the plan’s opponents on the council agreed an increase was in order, they wanted to send the item back to the rent board to consider establishing a sliding scale of payments based on the tenants’ financial circumstances and raising the age threshold to qualify as a senior citizen.
When the time came to vote, Shirek passed, and then after Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak, Hawley and Olds—all of whom have endorsed her candidacy in District 3—voted “no”, Shirek sided with them deadlocking the council in a four-to-four tie.
Seleznow Named Permanent Head of Parks
The council voted unanimously to appoint Marc Seleznow as Director of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. Seleznow assumed the duties of director last year when the former department head, Lisa Caronna was named Deputy City Manager.
Pedestrian Safety Plan On Hold
The council referred the Transportation Commission’s plan for improving pedestrian safety on University Avenue to city staff for review. The plan calls for building sidewalk bulb-outs, extending the width of the sidewalk where possible, upgrading traffic signals, installing reflective crosswalks, and requiring disabled accessible bus stops. Councilmember Dona Spring, who had hoped the council would adopt the recommendation, said the city had allowed developers to move bus stops to less accessible locations and narrow sidewalks so two wheelchair riders couldn’t safely pass one another.o