The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board has appointed campus alumna and tenants advocate María Poblet to replace Commissioner Katherine Harr, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
Poblet was voted into the board on a 5-2-1 vote. Commissioners Leah Simon-Weisberg, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, James Chang, Igor Tregub and Christina Murphy voted to appoint Poblet, while John Selawsky abstained and Jesse Townley and Paola Laverde voted against the appointment, according to Berkeleyside.
“When I think about this political moment, I think about protecting vulnerable communities,” Poblet said. She added that the problems caused by gentrification cannot be solved by one city, but Berkeley is in a position to lead the way.
Poblet is the former executive director of Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a grassroots organization that helps community leadership attain justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents, according to its website.
Commissioner James Chang said Poblet’s activism and experience with Causa Justa, a multimillion-dollar organization, contributed to his vote in her favor.
The decision to appoint Poblet goes against the recommendation of candidate Poki Namkung by the Ad Hoc Replacement Committee, which typically advises the board on these decisions. The Ad Hoc Committee labelled Namkung “most qualified” and Poblet “extremely qualified” in a memorandum dated March 20.
Paola Laverde-Levine, who voted against Poblet, indicated she would have favored Namkung as the appointed commissioner. Namkung’s health background would have added diversity to the board, as Poblet is an activist and advocate for tenant rights and there are already commissioners on the board with similar backgrounds to Poblet’s, according to Laverde-Levine.
“We needed a different facet of the diamond,” Laverde-Levine said, adding that housing instability and unaffordability affects people’s health both physically and mentally.
Rent Board Commissioner Jesse Townley said his decision to vote against Poblet was in part due to Namkung’s analytical training that would have allowed her to see “the direct correlations between health and lodging.”
Townley added that while his vote was against Poblet, “either way the people of Berkeley win.”
Commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg recommended Poblet as a candidate and said she did not believe anyone voted “against” any candidate in the decision, adding that the commission was fortunate to have multiple qualified candidates.
John Selawksy, chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, did not comment on his decision to abstain from voting, but said he was glad the board reached a final decision on a replacement.
Krista Gulbransen, executive director of Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition, said the initial vote was split between Namkung and Poblet. She added that while the commission is intended to consist of both landlords and tenants, all commissioners have been tenants.
“I assume (the addition of Poblet to the board) is to bring a much larger tenant movement to Berkeley,” Gulbransen said. “That is not the powers and duties of the rent board.”
Poblet said Berkeley can no longer be an “island,” and added that she hopes the city continues to play a role in larger movements for housing affordability.