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Candidates Chosen for Rent Stabilization Board

By Rio Bauce, Special to the Planet
Tuesday August 08, 2006

On a sunny afternoon last Sunday, Berkeley residents picked Lisa Anne Stephens, Howard Chong, Chris Kavanagh, Pam Webster and David Blake as candidates for the Rent Stabilization Board. Bob Evans, current Rent Stabilization Board member, although given high marks by the Rent Board’s screening process, was not selected to be on the slate. 

“I was a bit surprised that Bob Evans, an incumbent, didn’t make it onto the slate,” reported Chong. 

All of the candidates thought that the field was very strong and that the slate of five was stellar. The candidates who weren’t selected for the slate were Bob Evans (Rent Board incumbent), Judy Ann Alberti (former Rent Board member), Edith Monk-Hallberg (Commission on Labor Member), Kokovulu Lumakanda (chair of the Homeless Commission), Elliot Cohen (Peace and Justice Commissioner), and Frances Hailman (Berkeley resident). 

“The slate is great,” commented Blake, in a phone interview on Monday. “It is full of these long-time Berkeley activists who care about the future of the Rent Board. We are also very good friends. We need to work hard to defeat the Condo Conversion Initiative. Otherwise, there isn’t much for the Rent Board to do anymore.” 

Councilmember Max Anderson, the moderator, opened up the event, and Rent Board Chair Howard Chong explained the voting procedure to the audience. Despite the fact that Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) has not yet been implemented in Berkeley city elections, it made its way into the Rent Board voting process.  

“I thought that it was a great way to educate residents about IRV,” said Webster. “I had great confidence in Howard to explain it to the people.” 

But there were complaints over the voting process, which turned into a full heated debate. Anderson and Chong ended debate quickly after realizing that it was taking too long, to try to give candidates more speaking time, regarded as more important. While some thought that it was necessary to discuss situations in which the voting process was flawed, others dismissed it as grandstanding. 

“They made it more complicated than it really was,” said Kavanagh.” It’s just simply ranking candidate choices.” 

When asked what the top goal of the Rent Board should be, many answers replicated one another. 

“Personally,” said Blake, “I want to create an informed constituency. I want to find more ways for people to be aware of their rights.” 

Echoing Blake’s thoughts, Kavanagh said, “We need outreach and voter education, especially to educate people on the Condo Conversion Initiative.” 

Jesse Arreguin, Rent Board member, talked to the audience about the dangers of the Condo Conversion Initiative put on the ballot by landlords in Berkeley. The Committee to Defend Affordable Housing (CDAH) was actively seeking funds to cover the cost of defeating the measure in November. 

“It will have a significant impact on what we value in Berkeley,” said Arreguin. “We need to work hard to defeat this horrible measure in November.” 

However, Michael Wilson, spokesman for the Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA) claims that the Condo Conversion Initiative is long overdue. 

“I think that in general Berkeley’s housing policies are stuck in 1972,” Wilson said in a telephone interview. “They haven’t updated the policy or evaluated it.” 

The convention was held by the CDAH, a grassroots campaign coalition of pro-tenant activists in the community. CDAH helps get the five-member slate elected to the Rent Board and helps to lobby for pro-tenant initiatives and lobby against pro-landlord initiatives. 

Will there be any competition for the five-person slate in November? 

Jason Overman, Berkeley Rent Board member, said, “It is not to my knowledge that any progressive candidates will run independently of the five-person slate already selected. I think that it is important for progressive candidates to run united.” 

When asked if the BPOA would run anyone for the Rent Board, Wilson replied, “No, because of two major reasons. Firstly, after the Costa-Hawkins Act of 1996, a far larger number of units have rents that are much closer to market. Therefore, there are far fewer cases being filed. Secondly, since the settling of a lawsuit with Measure P, the annual rate increases are automated.” 



Photograph by Rio Bauce. 

Rent Board Candidates Lisa Anne Stephens, Pamela Webster, David Blake, Chris Kavanagh and Howard Chong.