Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates criticized for encouraging landlords to form PAC

Julie Zhang/File

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Several weeks after Berkeley property owners began raising funds for a political action committee and legal defense fund, Mayor Tom Bates is drawing criticism after a video from December came to public attention showing him encouraging the move.

An article published a week ago by the Contra Costa Times included a YouTube video of Bates’ speech at a Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA, gathering, in which he suggested that landlords form a PAC because “there is no doubt” they are “going to be under attack.” The property owners have since made plans to raise at least $500,000 a year for a PAC and legal fund, among other purposes.

Bates was the first mayor to open a dialogue with the BPOA and has met with the organization half a dozen times since Sid Lakireddy became its president in 2011, Lakireddy said.

“The advice I gave to the BPOA is the same as I would give to any interest group that is interested in affecting public policy,” Bates said in an email. Bates was not available for further comment.

Bates said in the video that a ballot measure to increase taxes for larger property owners, which will be considered at next week’s Berkeley City Council meeting, represents a “real threat.” He also said in the video that if the landlords organize, it would be possible to end the independence of the city’s Rent Stabilization Board, which currently operates separately from the rest of city government.

“I’d suggest you think about getting more and more political, in terms of getting organized and getting in a situation where you could come to a table and have resources to be able to make a difference,” Bates said in the video.

In the video, Lakireddy said that he was “proud to call (Bates) a friend of BPOA and a supporter of BPOA” and that he learned they “shared common grounds.” He said the BPOA agreed with Bates in endorsing a landlord-backed Tenants United For Fairness candidate in the 2012 rent board election and in supporting Downtown Berkeley development plans and policies to increase housing supply in the city.

Rent board commissioner John Selawsky said Bates has shown a number of times that he is not “friends” with tenants.

Selawsky said Bates has postponed the quarterly meeting between City Council and rent board members for more than a year and a half. Charles Burress, assistant to the mayor, said it isn’t rare for these types of meetings to be postponed if there is no business to discuss. Bates has encouraged these meetings in the past, according to Burress.

Selawsky said it is the voters’ will to have an independent rent board in Berkeley.

“Money doesn’t get what you want in Berkeley,” Selawsky said. “It doesn’t scare me.”

Bates also said that creating the “transit village” — his term for Downtown development — was one of the reasons he ran for mayor. He criticized Measure R, an initiative endorsed by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin last election that would have applied new regulations to Downtown development, as “crazy” and praised Lakireddy and the audience for helping him defeat the measure with 75 percent “no” votes.

Arreguin speculated that the PAC will spend money to defeat the business license tax and run candidates for the rent board. He also believes the PAC would use funds to support Councilmember Laurie Capitelli — whom Bates complimented in the video as an experienced developer — in a potential mayoral run. Arreguin is also considering running for mayor in 2016.

Contact Yuka Koshino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @YukaKoshino.

A previous version of this article stated that Mayor Tom Bates endorsed the Tenants United For Fairness slate in the 2012 Rent Board election. In fact, Bates endorsed one of their candidates.

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  • John Moore

    A lot of these pro-tenant commenters know very little about the Berkeley Stabilization Rent Board laws. Most of these laws are ludicrous and came into being by Tenant’s Rights Activists who make lots of money off suing landlords. Of coarse rents should be reasonable and regulated for certain people especially if they have lived in a unit for an extended period of time, but the regulations should never “run-with-the-land” . A property should not be subjugated to a stipulation granted to a former tenant who moved out 20 years ago. If you give a careful read of regulation 1016 , you will quickly find out how ridiculous it is; a unit can be “reclaimed” by former tenant if OMI eviction??? Lets face it, we are all tenants of the government. If the landlords stopped paying taxes, the government has the right to make a tax lien and eventually force a sale of the property. Landlords are the tenants of the government, but there are no laws protecting them against forced evictions. A tenant can claim the toilet is not working and not pay rent until it is fixed, then brake the toilet every month and never pay rent and the rent board will be happy to help them out. Now if a tenant can not pay rent and therefore the landlord can not pay taxes, the rent board has no help for the middle man tenant or “landlord” against government evictions. There should be a rent board, but it should be fair to both tenants and land owners. The Rent Stabilization Board should not just exist just to help extort money out of landlords. As far as exorbitance of rent is concerned, the rents are determined by people who can afford it. That is the simple economics of a capitalist system. And rents do not always go up, they are determined by supply and demand.

  • Landlords have rights too…

    • justiceplease

      Small landlords in Berkeley are failing to engage in longterm thinking. Their eagerness to get in on the windfall profits on what is obviously a housing bubble (mostly driven by foreign investment which is about to be withdrawn) led them to badger and threaten tenants until those tenants started demanding the alternative of “affordable housing” developments. Now unless you are one of the big landlords with investments in these developments yourselves, you are threatened with concrete monstrosities that will ruin the character of the city, give tenants an alternative to your rent gouging, and lower your property values all in one fell swoop. Hoist on your own petard!

      Small landlords need to stop being stooges for Sid Lakireddy: he is a big venture capitalist who will get rich off of big development, and he doesn’t give a frak about the character of the city. If you care about keeping Berkeley a beautiful college town, you will start making peace with tenants and finding a way to settle long-term residents in housing they can afford now. Think in terms of the golden rule: if you wouldn’t want your own housing treated like a commodity and ripped out from under you at will, don’t do that to other people. Housing needs to be treated as a vendor service, not a brokerage commodity. All landlords in Berkeley need to make a pact and follow the same rules so you will stop looking at the ones who are “getting rich” off of speculation with green-eyed envy. It is the ones who are getting rich who are doing the wrong thing. They should hang their heads in shame given that they have contributed to driving the housing crisis in Berkeley, and their selfishness may have ruined Berkeley’s character as a college town forever.

      Yes, Landlords have rights. Hopefully they have reason and foresight, too. It’s time for them to realize they are the ones who opened the door to the 2014 zoning changes beachhead. They are the ones who created the outcry for “housing”. Now you can try to address the damage, or you can live with the consequences.

      • and you would wonder why no one wants to build new housing or remodel the existing housing in berkeley. This is why everything here is falling apart.

        • justiceplease

          So you are saying that the landlords who chased tenants into demanding “development” housing are now just going to sit around and pout how they have no incentive to remodel their existing housing?

          It’s their houses whose property values will go down as downtown Berkeley is turned into a Transit Village. When “everything falls apart” it only hurts them. If landlords have the capability of organizing to further their interests *against* tenants, how hard is it to organize to further the interests of *Berkeley* along with tenants? That was what the Rent Board was originally for, by the way.

          • look around at all the shabby urban decay in berkeley. That alone should enough to raise eyebrows. Why would any property owner want to maintain their property if their ability to profit off it is capped by government commissions and citizen committees?

          • justiceplease

            Well, I repeat – it looks like small landlords screwed themselves on that one. Instead of acknowledging that people need a place to live and working cooperatively on those problems, they went the route of whining about not being able to get in on the $4000/month profits and scheming with the Mayor to set up half million dollar PACs. If landlords insist on presenting themselves as a hostile force at every turn, of course tenants are going to look for the alternative: large developments of affordable housing. And since the Mayor obviously has his finger in that pie as well – indeed he fantasizes about Berkeley as a “Transit Center” of the future with his name on a couple of terminals – he will laugh all the way to the bank as your money is used to elect the next Development Slate for City Council.

            I truly mourn for your “shabby urban decay”. Berkeley is a beautiful college town, and it’s already changed a lot in the 25+ years I’ve lived here. I would have preferred that Berkeley remain a college town with an emphasis on houses. I would have preferred that City policy had taken the South Berkeley Plan a little more seriously and taken more measures to support home ownership: it’s the sheer amount of people trapped in long-term tenancy (including people dumped into tenancy by 2008 foreclosures) that are causing this strain. Small Berkeley landlords want to profiteer, but the long-term residents don’t want that profiteering to happen at their expense. These are your neighbors. You should have worked with the Rent Board toward equitable rents, bringing property maintenance and any other issues you have there. You should have taken an interest in helping get long-term renters into co-ops or ownership so they wouldn’t be lagging in rent-controlled housing. The key, is you should have taken a cooperative, neighborly, civic, stance.

            Instead, you *chose* to take a hostile PROFITEERING stance laced with threats of Ellis Act Evictions, contorted political tactics like running a landlord slate as “tenants” for the Rent Board and engaging in illegal campaign spending (not to mention that bogus Grand Jury investigation), and forming this completely nutty half-million dollar PAC. You don’t see two obvious things:
            1) Every time developer lobbyists come before City Council and proclaim they will bring “housing”, they are contrasting themselves to the “greedy landlords” who are creating the housing crisis. That would be you. Congratulations for validating their propaganda.
            2) Sid Lakireddy is eyebrow deep in VC capital – he’s going to make out like a bandit *from* from the developments, and he’s using your small landlord PAC money to back the Development Slate politicians to do it. If you want to preserve small town Berkeley, you’ve been had.

            You can continue to try to browbeat me in a lame comments thread, or you can think about the reality of your situation – i.e., what you want to happen regarding your property values. Doesn’t affect me either way.

  • John Moore

    Its about time to stand up against the illegal and unjust Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. The purpose of this board is to help renters and landlords, but the reality is that you have renters taking advantage of Landlords hand over fist. A rent controlled apartment is forever rent controlled after an owner move-in when it becomes vacant again? ?? The property is now FOREVER rent-controlled ? And to top that off, the former tenant has the right to move back in FOREVER? OUTRAGEOUS! Money DOES talk in Berkeley. John Selawsky (Rent Board Commissioner) is either completely short sighted, a typical politician, or just a plain liar; money talks in Berkeley ! If money didnt talk in Berkeley then why are they building a huge 18 story hotel/condo/retail in downtown. Why did they allow a 7 story $7,000/month luxury apartment complex on Addison after it was supposed to be low income??? A large number of the landlords in Berkeley are not full of money either, they too have to pay huge rents to the Banks. IN BERKELEY EITHER YOU ARE DIRT POOR OR FILTHY RICH! Everyone in-between gets screwed! Who qualifies to get an apartment in Berkeley? You have to make at least $20,000 a month to afford an apartment. Since the taxes are the highest in the country, the landlords have to pay a minimum of $1,000 a month. How can they pay the taxes if rents are stuck at ridiculous low prices?
    Supposing someone is able to get a cheap apartment because they know a rent controlled place through a friend, so they move in at $1,200 a month and market rate is $3500. Supposing this new tenant who took over the lease makes $30,000 a month. Why should the apartment be Rent Controlled any more when the new tenant makes $30,000 a month??? This is an example of how the Berkeley Rent Board is helping tenants screw over landlords. There are no checks and balances for the renters in Berkeley. The poor people can not afford to live here because they are screwed over by other tenants who make more money then they do and pay cheap rent. AND THEY PAY CHEAP RENT DUE TO THE BERKELEY RENT BOARD’S ANTI-LANDLORD POLICIES! Everybody looses by having the Berkeley Rent Board; the low income people, the tenants, and especially the landlords. I know plenty of land owners who can just barely pay the mortgage in Berkeley and rely on income from tenants. In fact in alot of cases the tenants make more money then the land owners. Just because someone owns property, doesnt mean they have lots of money; that is why these thin minded activists can not comprehend.

    • justiceplease

      This post is complete propaganda and fantasy. One of the benefits of having the Rent Board is they actually track what happens with rent controlled units. As of 2013, over 80% of rent-controlled units were being rented *at market rate* – that’s the hyper-inflated, speculation-driven, woo-hoo windfall for the landlords market rate. Part of why this was happening is landlords discriminate in favor of renting to students in order to maintain high turnover in units. And just take a look at the AirBNB listings to see how many small Landlords in Berkeley are now making their fortunes.

      That was in 2013 – because of the housing bubble and speculation, many units are being lost all together as the housing is sold and the rental unit is taken off the market through owner move-in to get rid of the the long-term tenant. The City of Berkeley is currently doing a study of displacement in the Adeline Corridor area (preliminary results should be available online in August) – which should give us a picture of how an area with 70% tenants has been impacted by speculation. But it stands to reason that rent-controlled stock has been lost since 2013.

      It is unfortunate that the long-term residents of rent-controlled housing is such a small portion of the tenant population. For one thing, the tenants who aren’t protected by rent-control or who are just entering units at market rate, look at us older people who have lived in Berkeley a long time with a bit of schadenfreude. I agree – the situation is unfair. But it should be resolved by extending protections to make housing affordable for everyone again instead of turning the few people who are still clinging to an affordable place to live out into the street. This is what Mayor Bates and the Landlord PAC seeks to do in their effort to destroy the Rent Board – turn a very small fraction of long-term renters out into the street because they want to make windfall profits they will only get for a few minutes.

      I doubt “John Moore” was even personally stuck with a low rent tenant. The $30,000/month earner in a rent controlled unit is a traditional anecdote much along the lines of the person everyone “knows” who cheats on welfare (often on welfare programs that haven’t existed since the 60s). I have the good fortune to be holding on to a rent-controlled apartment: I’m disabled and living on a fixed income. My rent literally takes up all my income. I live in fear of the Rent Board’s annual increases because they will push the rent above what I can pay. My place is actually rather expensive if we were talking normal times, and my landlord should be quite satisfied even under rent control. However these are “get rich quick” times, so Landlords think the universe owes them bank.

      Well, housing is on the U.N Declaration of Human Rights, and people in the US have to start asserting that right. We need to stop bowing and scraping before the divine right of people who want to make money at our expense. I’m thankful the Rent Board is there to clarify the real situation and stand up for tenant’s rights.

      • John Moore

        If you want communism , move to China. There the fantasy of Government Control and government ownership is non-fiction. Under the illegal Berkeley Rent Board , owners are stripped of their rights of ownership and tenants are free to pay under market value even if they have the income to pay more rent. To a small degree keeping rents standard for one person or family is completely reasonable , but that is not the agenda of the Berkeley Rebt Board. Their agenda is to take away basic ownership rights and give them to all tenants regardless of their qualification to get lower rents or not. Ask any experienced land owner in Berkeley,

        • justiceplease

          The “communism with Chinese characteristics” turned into Deng Xiaoping’s “to get rich is glorious” long ago. They even mirrored the US with the massive ponzi scheme of Hanergy – “Enron with Chinese characteristics”!

          At the minute Market value is distorted – often by deliberately nefarious ways such as real estate investment advisers sending out news letters with highly emotional advice to “buy now!” and junkets to foreign countries to sell properties as a package (this will leave even rent-controlled tenants sold up the river when the bubble bursts with the Asian stock market and those properties are foreclosed upon). Therefore, it’s ludicrous when landlords invoke their “right” to one of the most overvalued real estate markets in the country. No, you are trying to get in on a get-rich-quick scheme, and you are mad at the Rent Board for intervening on behalf of Tenant’s rights.

          Also, even if tenants “have more income”, why should they pay over a certain amount that should be considered “normal” for housing. Why should landlords be entitled to a bigger chunk of someone else’s pay that they have earned? Housing should not be a method for landlords to extract as much as they can from other people. Housing should be a vended item with a determined value. The Rent Board is there to determine that normalized value. Not the hyper-inflated value you want to run away with.

  • Flatlander99

    This does seem like an obvious conflict of interest for both Bates and Capitelli. At the very least, they seem to be serving only a small minority of their actual constituencies (i.e., landlords and real estate developers).

  • still trying

    How long will it take before the people living in Berkeley realize Bates is not concerned about them. He is not concerned about trash, rats, noise, traffic congestion, the City polluting our bay, the safety of Berkeley citizens or the destruction of a once beautiful small town. Bates with the help of UC has destroyed the soul of a wonderful place. Berkeley under Bates has become just another run down town, like so many others in California. Under Bates, there is nothing special about Berkeley anymore.

  • AnthonySanchez

    What should also be juxtaposed to the Mayor’s urging of the BPOA to form a PAC with large amounts of money is the this City’s repeated affirmation against corporate PACS and money in politics, including the votes of the Mayor himself. In fact, his wife, Senator Loni Hancock, is a champion of campaign finance reform (and genuinely so).

    It’s a sad state of affairs when even in progressive cities the power of money is too strong to resist and politicians can take popular positions on the issue, while doing the opposite behind the scenes.

    For more context, the residents of Berkeley voted over 80% last year affirming the position that money is not speech and that corporate interests should be spending unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.

    • Whoa Mule

      After Bush invaded Iraq, college students were dispatched to teach democracy. The Shia realized they were the majority, so majority rules. The Sunni were turned out from govt. jobs, their neighborhoods have no services they have no say in the country. So American now has learned democracy from Iraq. Tenants are the majority, so providers of rental housing must pay onsite costs and fund new housing. If the battery is dead in the smoke detector, the landlord must be fined. The landlord must repair all depreciating items, but rents increase at less than the rate of inflation.

      Anthony doesn’t understand that the money will be mostly used to appeal board decisions to the courts. Tha’ts the difference between the US and Iraq.

    • Beatdownbob

      I’d sure love to hear you explain how the rent board helps UC students in need of plentiful and affordable housing.

      • justiceplease

        Shouldn’t the University be helping with that? They own the land, and they have the financial resources. When they fail to provide for their students,that unleashes terrible housing pressures that affect the regular residents of the city.

        When landlords offer special discounts to students, they are discriminating against older tenants and trying to beat rent control so they can keep their units at market rate. They are both breaking the law in terms of rent control and practicing age discrimination. It would be a boon to the city of Berkeley if students reported such special discounts to the Rent Board – at least when they left.

        Many rooms without kitchens that used to be offered to students have now been converted to AirBNBs because landlords can make a lot more money off of these. The Mayor encourages this, and City Council just passed a law to legalize the AirBNBs. They’d rather extract their piece of the taxes than try to recover the lost housing or do anything about the crisis. As explained below, from the Mayor’s SECRET perspective, the housing crisis is *money maker* for his cronies. And, as mentioned in the video, Capitelli is a crony.

        If you care about Berkeley, pass this video on.

      • powerbus

        I’d love to hear you explain how paying $3500 a month for a studio apartment in a building with poo in the elevator helps UC students in need of plentiful and affordable housing.

        • diogenes

          It doesn’t, but it ships $15 million per year per student-rent-serf-tenement to absentee investor predators in New York City, and that’s the important thing — to make sure the 0.01% get their “fair share”: everything. After all, it’s very expensive maintaining yourself on top of a world empire. Blowing up Palestinian babies costs money too, you know!

        • SF2OAK

          There are plenty of other places to rent- don’t take a $3500 studio nobody is forcing you.