Berkeley rent board approves 2020-21 budget, supports Black Lives Matter

Berkeley Rent Board Meeting
Lisi Ludwig/File

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The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board met virtually Thursday to discuss its 2020-21 fiscal year budget, ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and a possible influx of evictions.

Matthew Brown, acting executive director, outlined a budget and staffing plan that would account for the uncertainty of the board’s revenue this coming year. Proposed changes include eliminating three staff roles, adopting a conservative revenue projection and introducing a midyear budget review. 

According to Brown, a midyear budget review was necessary because Berkeley citizens may vote in November to adopt a measure allowing the commission to collect a partial fee for new single family homes for which registration fees are not currently charged.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, the board will have some unavoidable one-time costs during the 2020-21 fiscal year,” Brown said at the meeting. “We’ll likely have to draw down our uncommitted reserves substantially.”

He added that the board’s core services — hearings and meditations, outreach, counseling, registration and rent ceiling records — would not be affected.

The budget, which was passed unanimously, authorizes a total spending level of more than $6 million, with $465,000 taken from the board’s reserves.

The board also voted unanimously to express support for Black Lives Matter, passing a resolution by commissioner Mari Mendonca, chair Paola Laverde and commissioner Igor Tregub.

“The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board recognizes the urgency and the responsibility of our City and all of its offices, along with every politically held position and platform to actualize the reform of institutionalized racism immediately,” the resolution states.

Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil added that while the rent board is limited in its jurisdictional powers, he wanted to push for substantial policy changes at a City Council level.

In response to recent news articles warning of an incoming wave of evictions, the board discussed its letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors supporting a countywide eviction moratorium.

“Unfortunately, one of the areas (of the moratorium) that got changed that was particularly concerning to us was that the end date got moved to July 28,” Tregub said at the meeting.

Tregub also requested that staff members research any attempts to extend the termination period to its original deadline of September.

Another resolution passed unanimously by the board authorized Brown to modify the contract with Berkeley Community Media, or BCM, which televises board meetings so they are available for public viewing.

According to commissioner Soli Alpert, there have been a number of issues with the contract’s performance. He said meeting recordings were unavailable for several recent meetings, including the May 21 meeting.

Since the commission began holding meetings on Zoom, there have been issues with adding integrated closed captioning, according to Laverde. Because its meetings cannot be posted without closed captioning under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Laverde said she is working with BCM to resolve these issues and post previous regular meetings.

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57