A few dozen Berkeley citizens and property owners attended a candidates’ forum Saturday at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in South Berkeley to hear a group of largely pro-landlord candidates for mayor, City Council and rent board address development, rent control and housing affordability.
The forum — which was hosted by the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA — was attended by mayoral candidates Laurie Capitelli, Mike Lee, Naomi Pete and Ben Gould; City Council Districts 2, 3 and 6 candidates Darryl Moore, Mark Coplan, Deborah Matthews, Susan Wengraf and Isabelle Gaston; and rent board candidates Judy Hunt and Nate Wollman.
Much of the housing-related discussion centered on ballot measures DD and U1, two measures that would increase gross receipts taxes on landlords. DD would increase the tax from 1.081 percent to 1.5 percent and would apply to landlords owning more than two units; U1 would apply only to landlords owning more than four units and would increase the tax to 2.88 percent.
“The city tends to develop a one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to rental housing, and it’s not working,” said Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition, an affiliate of BPOA. “(Property owners) are consistently feeling squeezed, and they want to know how these politicians are going to think about the mom-and-pop landlords.”
Lee said he was focused on building goodwill with property owners, citing a desire to find consensus and encourage cooperation between landlords and the city. He also highlighted landlords as an important source of tax revenue and growth in Berkeley.
“We have a housing shortage, and these guys are the solution to it,” Lee said. “I want (property owners) to clearly understand that there is a way for us to do business that is non-contentious.”
Gulbransen said most of BPOA’s members are small-time landlords who own 10 units or fewer, adding that landlords should be given more consideration in local politics.
“We just get no sympathy and insufficient consideration for what we do and our problems,” said forum attendee Albert Sukoff, who owns about 60 units in Berkeley and more than 100 in Oakland.
City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington said he and other pro-tenant candidates chose not to attend because of dissatisfaction with the forum’s format, in which candidates spoke one at a time, introducing their platforms and fielding questions from the audience but not addressing each other directly.
Worthington also cited exasperation at measure DD and its proponents as a reason not to attend the forum. He added that the measure would hurt tenants and small landlords.
“I’ve engaged with them in conversation repeatedly, and they just keep lying and lying and lying,” Worthington said. “I think the deceptiveness of (the landlord lobby’s) massively expensive … campaign against tenants is really very problematic, and even the way that they’re running their meeting (doesn’t) really give people a fair sense either.”