The Berkeley City Council asked for more information about the creation of a new $130,000 position for the city’s Rent Stabilization Program at Tuesday’s council meeting.
One of councilmembers’ main objections—also made by members of the public who spoke at the meeting—was to spending such a large amount on hiring a deputy director for the Rent Board at a time when the city was laying off employees or freezing new positions.
The Rent Board, which is an independent elected body, has already approved the position.
Sid Lakireddy of the Berkeley Property Owners Association asked why the Rent Board could not “promote someone in-house” for the job.
Others questioned why the program would even require a deputy director, complaining that the agency had slipped in efficiency over the years.
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who said he could answer questions on behalf of the Rent Board Executive Director Jay Kelekian—absent due to a family emergency—defended the need for the new role.
“Unfortunately this discussion has turned into a Rent Board bashing session,” Arreguin said, responding to the criticisms.
Arreguin said that the agency had seen a 25 percent increase in the number of people asking for help with their rental issues, especially during a tough economy.
In addition to day-to-day operation of the Rent Stabilization Program, the rent board staff conducts outreach to tenants to inform them of their rights, provides counseling to both tenants and landlords and works to influence state legislation and court cases affecting Berkeley tenants.
Arreguin added that the board had replaced three highly paid staff attorney positions with a deputy director and one staff attorney as part of a cost-saving measure.
“There is a need for an administrator,” he said.
However, the majority of the councilmembers said it was important for Kelekian to be present to explain the new position.
“There needs to be a justification for hiring someone for $130,000 when we have stopped hiring people,” Mayor Tom Bates said.