Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board votes to oppose bill in effort to combat housing crisis

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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On Monday night, members of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board voted to oppose state Senate Bill 35 regarding the creation of affordable housing until amendments are made to clarify and make the bill more inclusive.

The bill, created by state Sen. Scott Wiener, seeks to streamline the approval process for developing new affordable housing when areas are not meeting their housing goals. The board voted 6-1, with two board members absent, to oppose the bill unless amended as recommended, with only Commissioner James Chang voting no.

Discussion to take action on the senate bill was continued from the July 17 board meeting. Following that first meeting, Rent Stabilization Board Chair John Selawsky, Vice Chair Paola Laverde-Levine and Commissioner Jesse Townley issued a recommendation July 19 for the board to oppose the bill unless amendments were made.

“Unless and until ambiguous and interpretive language is clarified in the text of this bill, we are recommending the Berkeley Rent Board vote to oppose this proposed bill,” Selawsky, Laverde-Levine and Townley wrote in their recommendation.

Chang noted that cities such as Berkeley have done a very good job of producing market rate housing, but added that he wants to look beyond the impact in Berkeley alone. According to Chang, a bill like this will “force the hand” of people who are against development of affordable housing in places like Palo Alto and Los Gatos.

“I don’t want to give developers a blank check,” Chang said, acknowledging how controversial the issue has been. “I’m not here to protect wealthy property owners. That is not my goal here.”

During Monday’s meeting, Rent Stabilization Board Legislative Advocate Brian Augusta also presented to the board on housing-related legislation. He began by outlining the senate bill and the changes that had been made to it since the last meeting.

Tenants Together, a statewide assembly of renters that works to defend the rights of California tenants for safe and affordable housing, stated in the July 19 recommendation that the current bill threatens to displace more people in urban communities through rapid development.

“In its current form, this policy gives even greater power to profit-driven real estate developers to build whatever suits their needs,” said the organization in its recommendation. “SB 35 is not a solution to affordable housing.”

The city has faced lawsuits in the past for allegedly blocking certain development projects, especially as officials struggle to find more options in the current housing crisis.

Kathy Snowden, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, said the organization was saddened, but not surprised by the vote’s outcome. According to Snowden, there are too many limitations that impede development of housing in the Bay Area, and this bill would be a step in the right direction in helping developers overcome these obstacles.

“There is no one bill that is going to solve the affordable housing crisis in California,” Selawsky said during the meeting. “This is a statewide crisis, and I think we need to address it incrementally on a statewide level.”

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.

A previous version of this article stated that the board all voted in favor of the recommendation excluding one implying an 8-1 vote to oppose the bill. In fact, the vote was 6-1, with two board members absent.