Pool of Candidates Take Out Papers for Rent Board

By Suzanne La Barre
Friday July 28, 2006

The race for seats on the Rent Stabilization Board is underway as potential candidates gear up for a nomination convention Aug. 6. 

The traditional event gathers progressive organizations of all stripes to select a slate for Rent Board, the nine-member body charged with regulating rent increases and protecting tenant rights. 

The slate is characterized by people “whose values are progressive and who generally believe in pro-tenant policies, but also who would be reasonable and balanced,” said Rent Board Member Jason Overman. 

Members are elected to four-year terms and serve a maximum of two terms. They receive a monthly stipend of $500 and typically attend one board meeting a month in addition to committee meetings, said rent stabilization program Executive Director Jay Kelekian. 

This year, five spots are opening up. 

The Committee to Defend Affordable Housing, composed of current Rent Board members and progressive group representatives, conducted a preliminary screening of candidates Sunday. Committee members, as individuals, will present candidate evaluations at the convention, which the Cal Berkeley Democrats, the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, the Gray Panthers and other local organizations typically attend. 

The top five Rent Board nominees are billed for the ballot when they each receive 60 percent of the vote, through polling rounds. 

Three incumbents—Board Chair Howard Chong, tenant rights’ attorney Bob Evans, and Green Party member and middle school teacher Chris Kavanagh—are vying to maintain a hold on the board. 

Selma Spector vacates her seat due to term limits and Vice Chair Pinkie Payne reportedly does not plan to rerun, though she could not be reached for confirmation.  

New candidates, who have taken out signature in-lieu papers, include: former Rent Board Member Judy Ann Alberti; Zoning Adjustments Board Vice Chair David Blake; Peace and Justice Commissioner Elliot Cohen; Commission on Labor member Edith Monk-Hallberg; local activist Pam Webster; and member of both the Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee Lisa Anne Stephens. 

Candidate Kokavulu Lumukanda, who chairs the Homeless Commission, has not taken out papers but underwent the screening process Sunday, Overman said. 

Pro-tenant members have consistently held court over the Rent Board since 1998. Property owners used to run an opposing slate—at one point, they represented a board majority—but that is no longer the case, said Michael Wilson, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association. 

His organization will not pitch any candidates this year, he said, because “the rent board is just not that relevant to the world anymore.” 

In 1996, the Costa-Hawkins Act took effect, limiting local governments’ ability to regulate rent for vacant units and single-family dwellings. That coupled with Measure O of 2004, a local, voter-approved initiative that mandates annual rent increases based on the Consumer Price Index, further weakened the board’s authority. 

The board’s primary capacity is quasi-judicial, as a mediator between landlords and tenants. It also provides policy recommendations and engages in outreach.  

In the 2004 election, with four seats up for grabs, just one independent candidate, Seth Morris, submitted a bid. He later withdrew from the race, though he secured 13,685 votes—about 5,000 votes shy of the next lowest-returning candidate. 

No stand-alone candidates have filed nomination or signature in-lieu papers to date. Several candidates have said they do not plan to run independently if they are not selected for the slate. 

The convention meets Sunday, Aug. 6, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center. It is open to the public.