Tregub Is Top Rent Board Slate Vote-Getter

By Al Winslow - Special to the Planet
Thursday August 07, 2008 - 12:13:00 PM

Igor Tregub, 23, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, was the top vote-getter at a convention this week to pick five progressive candidates to run on as a slate for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. 

The Rent Board oversees enforcement of Berkeley’s rent control ordinance. Its staff, which includes two lawyers, explains the law to both tenants and landlords, collects registration fees (now $170 per unit), calculates rent adjustments, helps tenants find a lawyer in eviction cases, and keeps track of Berkeley units under rent control. 

Tregub, now an engineer at the Department of Energy in Livermore, got 149 votes in a weighted voting system. 

Judy Shelton, an artist and activist in tenant causes, got 140 votes. 

Jesse Townley, secretary of the Berkeley Green Party and an advocate for disabled people, got 134 votes. 

Attorney Jack Harrison, incumbent vice-chair of the Rent Board, got 132 votes. 

Nicole Drake, an aide to Councilmember Linda Maio and vice-chair of the Housing Advisory Committee, got 101 votes. The winning five candidates will run on a Save Affordable Housing slate in the November elections. 

Bob Evans, an outspoken and sometimes controversial eviction defense lawyer and a former board member, got 78 votes. 

The vote-counting system, being used for the first time, is somewhat like instant-runoff voting, in which voters rank candidates by order of preference. It is meant to measure any level of support a candidate gets. If Evans had gotten enough end-of-the ballot votes and Nicole Drake hadn’t, Evans would have moved into fifth place. 

But Dave Blake, a board member who oversaw the counting, said that when it became clear there weren’t enough ballots left to change the outcome, the counting was suspended. 

Evans can appeal. “I don’t have enough information to say yay or nay,” he said.  

The vote-counting also was suspended due to counters’ exhaustion. 

Normally a computer would be used to process such a heavy load of calculations, but there’s no way a roomful of Berkeley progressives would let a computer anywhere near a ballot. 

The counting started at 6:30 p.m. and went to 9 p.m., when the custodian at the North Berkeley Senior Center, where the convention was held, kicked everyone out. It moved to the Au Coquelet cafe down the street, where it finally ended about an hour later. 

Representatives of the candidates watched the counting with a dwindling number of other observers for as long as they could stand it. 

Tregub, the top vote-getter, openly acknowledged packing the convention with UC students. It wasn’t the first time a candidate had tried to pack the audience with supporters. 

“I did it myself,” said Jesse Arrequin, a former student board member who has resigned to run for the late Dona Spring’s District 4 City Council seat in November. “This is a very common practice at these conventions, and people are used to it.” 

Tregub said his group had compiled a list of 66 people ready to vote for him. Between 30 and 50 of them showed up. 

“In the past there has been a strong anti-student bias,” Tregub said. “This year I saw bias not emanating from candidates but just a few individuals.” 

Complaints about student candidates typically center on their lack of experience in rent-control matters and that they are using the board for practice in governmental affairs. 

Trebug’s experience with rent-control involves two instances of making landlords pay interest on security deposits and an eviction. 

Regardless of who is on the board, the Rent Board staff, operating out of a walk-in office at 2125 Milvia St., plugs steadily along, bound by numerous laws and rules. 

A graph of the history of registration fees in the board’s 2007-2008 budget is a smooth, slowly ascending line, unaffected by the time Berkeley landlords were in control of the board or when vacancy decontrol was passed by the state legislature in the 1990s, allowing landlords to charge any rent they want on empty or new apartments.  

Blake called this mostly a result of good management. Speaking at the convention, Vice Chair Harrison reported a new trend—foreclosures on buildings that have tenants in them. 

“Yes, it’s here,” Harrison said. “It’s probably the most dangerous issue.” 

Later, Harrison said the Rent Board so far has sent notices to 16 tenants living in buildings under foreclosure, advising them to contact the Rent Board about where to send their rent. 

“If they give it to anybody, somebody can just put it in their pocket,” he said. “As soon as we get involved they back away.”