Public Comment

Commentary: Violations of Residency Law Should Be Penalized

By Paul Schwartz
Friday August 03, 2007

I was shocked to read in the San Francisco Chronicle in the Matier and Ross column that our Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner Chris Kavanagh is defending an eviction proceeding from his home in Oakland. If these allegations are true, that Mr. Kavangh perjured himself when he signed election papers to seek the position of Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner, then he must be prosecuted for that perjury by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. If he is not prosecuted, then our election laws, which are sacred, become meaningless and subject to fraud and manipulation by unscrupulous individuals.  

If Mr. Kavanaugh is defending an eviction proceeding from a cottage that he claims is his home in Oakland, he has again perjured himself. He can’t legally reside in two locations. Either he lives and votes in Berkeley, or he lives and votes in Oakland. If he illegally registered and voted in Berkeley, that would be another crime. This case warrants thorough investigation. As an elected official he is held to a high standard of fairness and trust. How could one ever appear in front of the rent board and assume they will receive due process and the fair hearings and decisions they are entitled to by law when individuals like this sit in judgment. If these allegations are true, I wonder if any of the matters he voted on are legal and binding. If these allegations are true and I were a claimant, I would seek a new hearing on any matter he was involved in. His attorney Marc Janowitz, a former rent board commissioner, should not be allowed to make appearances in front of the board or represent claimants in matters before the board, as he would likely have a conflict of interest. 

I don’t know if people are aware that rent board commissioners receive $500 a month for serving on the rent board and also receive health insurance coverage, both at taxpayer expense. At Mr. Kavanaugh’s age, the health insurance coverage benefit is probably worth between $400 to $700 per month. If Mr. Kavanaugh was truly not a Berkeley resident, he has been receiving these funds and benefits through fraud. After investigation to get to the facts, I believe it is incumbent on the Berkeley City Attorney, if the investigation so warrants, to file a civil suit against Mr. Kavanaugh for reimbursement of all funds and benefits he has received at our, the taxpayer’s expense. Such a suit should include a claim for punitive damages as Mr. Kavanaugh has engaged in an intentional act which, if it is true, amounts to fraud against a public entity. The City of Berkeley should be able to recover a tidy sum. I calculate five plus years of benefits amounting to at least $1,000 per month to be worth $60,000 not including puntive damage claims. If the allegations in the Matier and Ross column are accurate, the public needs to know that public fraud will be punished both criminally and civily. 

Why do rent board commissioners need to be paid and receive health coverage benefits when no other Berkeley commissioners are paid or receive healthcare benefits? With vacany decontrol now the law in California, there is very little the rent board commissioners actually do. I believe they may meet for a total of 2-3 hours per month and do basically almost meaningless committee work. Other commission involve far more work. Have you ever watched a rent board meeting. Most of the time, the commissioners engage in longwinded philosophical discourses and rarely discuss anything meaningful. They appear to be pressed to fill the time of the meetings with anything of substance and often laugh and joke around. I guess I would laugh and joke around if I were on the public dole. It is a good gig if you can get it.  


Paul M. Schwartz is a Berkeley resident.