Berkeley renters are facing a compounded crisis of scarce affordable housing and the economic instability brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, making the Rent Stabilization Board’s work in protecting tenants all the more important. Five out of the 12 candidates on the November ballot — Xavier Johnson, Andy Kelley, Carole Marasovic, Mari Mendonca and Leah Simon-Weisberg — are the best equipped to deal with these concerns.
The race is largely split between two slates, with five candidates running in the Right to Housing Slate for Rent Board — Johnson, Kelley, Mendonca, Simon-Weisberg and Dominique Walker — and five in the Homeowners for Berkeley Rent Board slate — Bahman Ahmadi, Dan McDunn, Pawel Moldenhawer, Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld and Soulmaz Panahi. Two independent candidates, Marasovic and Bianca Zahrai, are also on the ballot. Members of The Daily Californian’s editorial board interviewed all of the candidates except for Zahrai, who was unable to schedule an interview.
Many candidates on the Homeowners slate, as well as Zahrai, advocated homeowner representation on the board and increased transparency. The editorial board concluded, however, that the rent board’s stated goals of supporting renters with disabilities, low-income residents, minorities, students and other more vulnerable populations in Berkeley would best be carried out by candidates with clear goals to advocate for these renters.
Johnson, Kelley, Marasovic, Mendonca and Simon-Weisberg will fight for Berkeley tenants.
As a tenants’ rights attorney, Xavier Johnson not only understands the challenges tenants in Berkeley face, but he also has on-the-ground experience advocating for them.
A UC Berkeley School of Law graduate, Johnson is currently a legal fellow at Centro Legal de la Raza, working on everything from pushing back against illegal rent hikes to ensuring tenants have proper living conditions. Outside of his professional work, Johnson serves on the Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission, through which he advises the City Council on a variety of housing issues.
As a commissioner, Johnson plans to not only expand the scope of tenant protections but also protect against illegal foreclosures and pause evictions. Johnson’s other goals include increasing housing accessibility for those with disabilities.
Amid the pandemic and with the threat of housing displacement looming larger than ever, we need representatives who advocate for tenants, not profit off of them.
Johnson’s progressive values, coupled with his legal knowledge, advocacy and unique insight into the local housing crisis, make him an excellent pick.
Vote Xavier Johnson for rent board.
As a UC Berkeley alumnus and 15-year Berkeley resident, Andy Kelley understands the challenges tenants — especially student tenants — face.
He currently serves as an Alameda County planning commissioner, and through this role he has gained practical experience working with budgets and legislation. He emphasized the need to approach all matters that come before the board from a legal perspective and apply the law fairly to both parties — an important outlook for commissioners.
Kelley also has tangible ideas for streamlining rent board processes and providing more direct services for tenants and landlords, as well as making the board’s resources more accessible by adding submittable forms to the website and translating documents into more languages.
Community outreach is another important focus for Kelley. He aims to support residents by working with Berkeley Unified School District and nonprofit organizations to reach families facing homelessness and identify needs. Having a strong community advocate with practical experience on the board will be invaluable for Berkeley tenants.
Vote Andy Kelley for rent board.
Carole Marasovic’s legal experience and extensive tenure on city commissions, including her current position as chair of the Homeless Commission, make her an ideal choice for the rent board.
As chair, Marasovic is working to pass an amendment to the city’s Source of Income Discrimination Ordinance. This amendment would add a complaint mechanism for tenants to report mistreatment, further protecting low-income residents and those with disabilities who pay rent with a voucher. When she spoke with the Daily Cal, she emphasized her goal to continue fighting for Berkeley’s disability community and create avenues for more accessible housing on the rent board.
Marasovic has a clear vision to enact policies that would benefit tenants while also approaching issues brought to the board with a balanced perspective toward both tenants and landlords. With plans to increase the board’s outreach and ensure students are aware of the legal protections it provides them, Marasovic will be an excellent addition to the board.
Vote Carole Marasovic for rent board.
Mari Mendonca is passionately committed to the marginalized communities of Berkeley and a fight for housing as a human right — a stance that can only continue to benefit the rent board.
Mendonca has served on the rent board for one year after being unanimously appointed to fill a vacant seat. She is also part of the Housing Advisory Commission and a member of Friends of Adeline, an advocacy group working to achieve a more equitable South Berkeley.
With this experience in housing advocacy, Mendonca aims to address housing inequity in Berkeley’s Black communities. She specifically noted the need to work with Berkeley neighborhoods that have been historically redlined and do not have the same access to resources.
While Mendonca didn’t provide many policy solutions in her interview, there is no doubt that she will uphold the mission of the rent board and be a fierce advocate for Berkeley tenants.
Vote Mari Mendonca for rent board.
As the board’s current vice chair, Leah Simon-Weisberg has shown dedication to rent stability and protecting communities.
With her career as a tenant attorney, Simon-Weisberg has a wealth of experience in leadership and defending clients: She has worked at the Eviction Defense Network and Centro Legal de la Raza, and she also co-founded Tenants Together. She recently represented Moms 4 Housing, and she provides support to rent control advocates across the state. Simon-Weisberg also authored Richmond’s rent control ordinance, which was adopted in 2016.
Simon-Weisberg believes that housing is a human right and should not be treated as a commodity. In addition to protecting tenants, Simon-Weisberg also stressed supporting small, local landlords impacted by the pandemic and providing mortgage relief if needed. Her legal experience as well as her experience as a rent board member during the COVID-19 pandemic make Simon-Weisberg well-equipped to continue as a board member.
Vote Leah Simon-Weisberg for rent board.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.