Pro-tenant convention elects slate of candidates for November election Sunday

Francesca Ledesma/Staff

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An unprecedented number of Berkeley residents and community members attended a convention Sunday, in which four candidates were chosen to run for the city Rent Stabilization Board on a pro-tenant slate this November.

Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Christina Murphy, Igor Tregub and Leah Simon-Weisberg were selected out of nine candidates to act as a unified, pro-tenant slate come November. If these candidates are elected to the board, they will each fill one of four vacant seats and serve a four-year term.

A coalition of Berkeley political groups — including members from Friends of Adeline, Berkeley Progressive Alliance and Berkeley Tenants Union — hosted the Berkeley Tenant Convention in order to consolidate its similar progressive views and prevent like-minded candidates from running against one another, according to Katherine Harr, vice chair of the city rent board and a convention organizer.

Stefan Elgstrand, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin’s chief of staff, and Christine Schwartz, a Berkeley resident, both originally planned to run but dropped out of the race before the convention.

Soto-Vigil, a rent board incumbent and current legislative aide to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, previously ran for the District 1 council seat in 2014.

Murphy, a known tenant advocate, has worked extensively over the past five years to advocate tenants’ rights and improve communication with landlords.

I have passion for my community and for those who are voiceless,” Murphy said.

Tregub, the vice chair of both the city Zoning Adjustments Board and Housing Advisory Commission, aims to enhance the rent board’s outreach to more of the Berkeley community, specifically to campus students.

Matthew Lewis, current ASUC director of local affairs, was the only student candidate at the convention, but he was ultimately not chosen to the slate.

The final candidate, Simon-Weisberg, former co-executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, has represented tenants and tenants’ rights as a lawyer in both Southern California and the Berkeley area.

At the convention, Worthington expressed his appreciation for the slating event, which he said allowed for pro-tenant candidates to be consolidated onto one ticket.

“I think supporting tenants and affordable housing is one of the most important things in Berkeley,” Worthington said. “If all (of these candidates) were to run and split the vote, and there were only four random candidates, we would be in trouble.”

Harr also stated that if a candidate chooses to partake in the convention but is not elected, they are asked — but are not required — to not run against the slate in the election.

We ask them to do it, and they always have in the past,” Harr said.

The Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition — the political voice of the Berkeley Property Owners Association — has yet to release a slate of pro-landlord candidates for the November elections, according to the executive director of the BRHC Krista Gulbransen.

In 2012, a similar pro-landlord slate — Tenants United for Fairnessran one candidate in order to combat allegations of a pro-tenant bias within the rent board. The following year, the slate allegedly did not submit campaign finance statements from prohibited organizations — including Premium Properties — to the city. Tenants United for Fairness agreed to pay a $4,000 fine to the city and has not run a candidate since Judy Hunt was elected in 2012.

During the 2014 municipal elections, the pro-tenant slate ran unopposed as no pro-landlord party ran any candidates.

We support action in the community and certainly support anybody who wants to run for political office,” Gulbransen said  in response to the convention.

Gulbransen, who did not attend the convention, said that currently, the BRHC’s main focus is to support the ballot measure to increase business license taxes on rental housing providers. The BRHC intends for the extra revenue from this increase to help fund affordable housing.

This convention had a record-breaking attendance of more than 200 citizens, city government officials and students alike. Because of the high number of attendees, Kassandra Camacho — a Berkeley resident and former intern for Soto-Vigil — noted that despite the initial busyness of the convention, addressing individual concerns is of utmost importance in any political process.

Democracy isn’t easy,” Camacho said. “People don’t always understand that.”

Ben Bartlett, a city planning commissioner and District 3 City Council candidate, attributed the high turnout rate to residents’ concerns regarding Berkeley’s housing crisis.

“This is a huge reflection of the need for housing in Berkeley,” Bartlett said at the convention.

General elections will be held Nov. 8.

Contact Brenna Smith at [email protected].