Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates criticized for encouraging landlords to form PAC

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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.