Court orders city to change ballot language after Berkeley landlords coalition sues

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On Tuesday, a county court ordered the city to modify misleading ballot language from a city-sponsored measure that would increase the business license taxes for certain landlords after the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition, or BRHC, sued the city earlier this month.

Appearing at Hayward Hall of Justice, attorneys from both the city and the coalition presented an agreement to Judge Kimberly Colwell — who granted the writ of mandate — after the two parties met privately to discuss a tentative ruling that Colwell offered at the start of the hearing.

After a couple of hours of deliberation, the lawyers agreed to change language in the ballot information pamphlet for Measure U1, as well as the projected revenue stated on the ballot. Instead of listing the annual revenue generated as $3.9 million, as it currently stands, the measure will state that it will raise between $2.9 million and $3.5 million.

The two parties also agreed to move the placement of Measure DD — a competing property owner business tax increase sponsored by BRHC — so the two initiatives appear next to each other on the ballot.

“We’re pleased that we came to (a) conclusion in time for the registrar to get a print with the ballot,” said BRHC Director Krista Gulbransen. “But we’re disappointed to see that the city attorney was … arguing against a citizen’s initiative. We feel we’ve come to good conclusions between the two parties.”

BRHC, the political action committee of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA, originally filed a lawsuit against the city Aug. 17.

Measure U1 would raise the business license taxes from 1.081 percent to 2.88 percent for property owners with five or more units, exempting low-income units and properties that have not been occupied for at least 12 years. Measure DD, in contrast, would raise the business license taxes for all property owners to 1.5 percent. While Measure U1 is now expected to raise between $2.9 million and $3.5 million, Measure DD is expected to generate only $1.4 million for the city.

BPOA President Sid Lakireddy said he is satisfied with the outcome of the settlement.

“I think the outcome was fair,” Lakireddy said. “There were some things that could have been better spelled out. We still disagree over the number that was agreed upon, but for the sake of expediency, I think the BRHC agreed on it.”

Despite the changes, Measure U1 campaign co-chair Steve Barton said he does not expect that the modifications will be an obstacle for the campaign in the November election.

“They got some things that seemed very important to them, and we got some things that seemed important to us,” Barton said, adding that the ballot description will now emphasize that the 12-year exemption for newer developments is temporary. “I don’t think it either benefited or hurt the campaign. We’re pretty much where we were when we started.”

While BRHC attorney Jim Sutton appeared before the judge to summarize the terms of the agreement Tuesday, the signed stipulation agreement was officially filed Wednesday.

Even after the settlement, ballot printing will not be delayed, Barton said. Ballots still are set to be sent to printers Friday.

Chantelle Lee covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.