Bernie Sanders endorses pro-tenant slate for November Rent Stabilization Board elections

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Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders individually endorsed Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Igor Tregub — the four members of the CALI slate running for the city’s Rent Stabilization Board.

Soto-Vigil said he and the slate’s other members are honored by the Sanders endorsement. He added that he considers it a responsibility to continue Sanders’ progressive movement and efforts to engage the younger generation.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the movement,” Soto-Vigil said.

Several weeks ago, Sanders also endorsed mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguin. These endorsements are a result of Sanders’ nationwide effort to endorse roughly 100 local government candidates in order to further his progressive movement.

Last April, Berkeley citizens and political groups held a convention to select a pro-tenant slate for the November elections in an effort to consolidate like-minded candidates onto one ticket. As a result of the convention, the four current members of the CALI slate were selected.

The Rent Stabilization Board has four open positions on the ballot, and there are a total of six candidates in the race. The other two candidates, Judy Hunt and Nate Wollman, are running on a pro-landlord slate.

Neither Hunt nor Wollman could be reached for comment on Sanders’ endorsement of the CALI slate.

The CALI slate has also been endorsed by former Berkeley mayor Gus Newport, mayoral candidates Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, the Sierra Club, Berkeley Tenants Union and East Bay Young Democrats.

Katherine Harr, vice chair of the Rent Stabilization Board, said she anticipates the Sanders endorsement to be influential in the election. She added that Berkeley consists of “a changing population” that increasingly consists of students and young people.

“Berkeley can be a tough place to get a handle on as a voter because really our two sides aren’t that far apart,” Harr said. “So to have Bernie’s endorsement is a sign that’ll lead the way for voters.”

Staff writer Semira Sherief contributed to this report.

 

Brenna Smith is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @bsmith_1853.

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  • What did Bernie endorse? What platform does this slate hold? We know that Alejandro was active in Bernie’s campaign — is this endorsement just a quid pro quo? Or is there substance to it? To find out, I tried to figure out what this slate stands for.

    Many months into the campaign, this is the closest thing I kind find to a platform for the CALI slate:

    “This slate’s campaign platform is to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion to keep people in Berkeley; Fairly enforce Berkeley’s
    Rent and Eviction Protections Ordinance; and to Defend and strengthen
    rent control in Berkeley to keep Berkeley a place we can all call home.”

    The quote comes from the campaign web site of Leah Simon-Weisberg. (If there is some web site for the whole slate I have yet to find it.)

    Let’s examine this platform. Will it be good for renters? Since this is the Daily Cal: will it be good for students? What actions does this slate promise to take? What does it promise to accomplish?

    The platform has three planks:

    1. Promote equity, diversity, and inclusion to keep people in Berkeley.
    2. Fairly enforce Berkeley’s
    Rent and Eviction Protections Ordinance.
    3. Defend and strengthen
    rent control in Berkeley to keep Berkeley a place we can all call home.

    Obviously this is a bit thin but let’s see if we can find anything in it:

    “1. Promote equity, diversity, and inclusion to keep people in Berkeley.”

    Economic displacement is a widespread fear, these days. That plank clearly speaks to that fear, but the plan is to “promote equity, diversity, and inclusion”. What does that mean? Will the rent board hold rallies for diversity? Put up billboards for inclusion? Displacement fears exist because market rate housing in Berkeley is so high priced that even the *median* Berkeley household can not afford it. More than half the people in Berkeley are at risk for displacement not just from their homes, but from the City and the region.

    This rent board slate is silent on what they will do to bring rents to reasonable levels.

    “2. Fairly enforce Berkeley’s
    Rent and Eviction Protections Ordinance.”

    While that sounds terrific it is also the sworn duty of every rent board member. Since the slate offers no details, I am not sure they are saying more than “We will try not to break the law or get the City or Rent Board sued..”

    Lastly, there’s this:

    “3. Defend and strengthen
    rent control in Berkeley to keep Berkeley a place we can all call home.”

    I’m sure we’d all like to see the plan. Rent stabilization in Berkeley was up-ended in 1995 with the passage of a state law called Costa-Hawkins. One long-term consequence of that state law is that Berkeley landlords appear to discriminate in favor of short-term residents (like students) but only in order to have more opportunities to raise the rent between tenants. Further, there are other state overrides that make it easier to take rent stabilized units off the market. Lastly, no new construction is price controlled.

    Thus, this, the next, and every rent board in the foreseeable future faces the gradual but inexorable eradication of rent control from Berkeley.

    It is nice to know that this slate says they will “defend and strengthen rent control” but anyone can say that. They offer no hint of just exactly how they’ll achieve that aim.

    To the best of my knowledge, Simon-Weisberg is active promoting a similarly legally doomed form of rent control in nearby cities. Each of these candidates has at one time or another complained but the state laws but none has put forward a credible plan for changing them. Sadly, no reporter has bothered to ask them about their plans, either.

    And further, members of this slate have endorsed measure U1, a regressive tax on rents that will be passed through with every new tenancy in Berkeley, and that can be passed through in other cases in spite of the protestations of these candidates.

    Why would a supposedly pro-tenant slate endorse a regressive tax on rents? I think Harr might have given the most honest answer, comparing this slate to pro-landlord candidates:

    “Berkeley can be a tough place to get a handle on as a voter because really our two sides aren’t that far apart,” Harr said.

    We need a real tenants movement, not this fake one.