Berkeley deserves a commission that is fair, competent and applies due diligence

On June 25, 2012, the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury issued a report and findings quite critical of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board’s hiring practices and lack of oversight.  “…[T]he Grand Jury found that the (board) is a self-sustaining bureaucracy that operates without effective oversight and accountability.”  Berkeley deserves a commission that is fair, competent and applies due diligence regarding its charge from the voters, which includes: yearly evaluations of the executive director, accountability of how monies are allocated and utilized, and the decision-making process regarding hiring and operations. In order to truly get oversight and accountability, we need commissioners committed to good governance, to transparency in how the board operates, and to mediating tenant and landlord issues in a fair, balanced and democratic way.

Rent board commissioner Nicole Drake has advocated for oversight over the past four years and is the only sitting commissioner concerned about and supportive of the Grand Jury’s findings. Let’s make one thing clear — the Grand Jury had no issue with Berkeley’s strong Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance, nor did the findings recommend any weakening of the ordinance.  The Grand Jury found issue with the exorbitant salary of the executive director, which is $183,000, the complete lack of operational and management oversight and the excessive registration fees without sensible justification.  The recommendations and findings of the Grand Jury must, and can, be implemented with absolutely no change to the rent ordinance or to the services provided to tenants.

The Grand Jury’s findings prompted Drake to seek an alternative slate, one that shares her concerns with the Grand Jury’s findings and a board that competently, fairly and transparently makes fair and balanced decisions.  Our opposition, the so-called “pro-tenant, affordable housing” slate purports to have  been chosen by the “community convention process” — this could not be further from the truth.  As an insider to this “process” in 2008, Drake was very alarmed about the group organizing the convention, the Committee to Defend Affordable Housing. This group cobbles together a convention every two years in an attempt to control who gets elected to the rent board. There is nothing democratic, fair or transparent about this so-called convention process.  Don’t be fooled!  Seeking to put an end to the solely “pro-tenant” process and rubber stamping of commissioners over Executive Director Kelekian’s policies and staffing decisions, Drake knew reform was needed. No more business as usual.

Thus, the Berkeley TUFF slate was born.

We are “Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness.”  Berkeley TUFF is made up of: Drake, a rent board incumbent, Berkeley tenant for more than 10 years, former vice-chair of Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission, and current legislative aide to Berkeley Vice-Mayor Linda Maio; Judy Hunt, long-time West Berkeley resident, non-profit executive and former commissioner on Alameda County’s Aging Commission; Jay James, a long-time Berkeley tenant, doctorate in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley and current post doctorate at UC Berkeley; and Kiran Shenoy, a tenant, attorney and  Berkeley Police Review Commission member.  We are all supportive of our strong rent ordinance, but we are concerned with how it is being administered.  For far too long, the board has been working without oversight or accountability.  The board must conduct annual and timely evaluations of the executive director and it has not.

Furthermore, given the substantial decline in appeals and hearings the rent board conducts annually, there is no justification for the ever-increasing executive director’s salary and registration fees.

The slate is proud to be endorsed by Councilmembers Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak.  Berkeley TUFF candidates Drake, James and Shenoy also received the endorsement of Maio.  Drake, Hunt and Shenoy received the sole endorsement of the Berkeley Democratic Club, while Drake has received the endorsement of Mayor Tom Bates.

Let’s make this very clear — our opposing slate does not support long-term oversight or accountability over the executive director, the board or staffing issues.  Enough is enough.  Tenants and landlords deserve more.  Reform is needed.  It’s time we hold the board accountable.  It’s time to end government waste.  Let’s make sure money is spent on providing safe and affordable housing to tenants, not on exorbitant salaries! Support members of “Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness.”

When you vote, remember: Kiran Hunts Drakes and Jays!


Candidates Judy Hunt and Jay James contributed to this op-ed.

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