The Berkeley Rent Board will select a new Commissioner to fill the seat vacated when BTU’s Katherine Harr chose to resign for personal reasons. The Board’s timeline is very tight, with written applications due next week, but anyone can apply. The eight sitting Commissioners will hold a special meeting later this month, then form a committee to interview top applicants, and finally select a new Commissioner on March 20. That appointee will complete Harr’s term.
The Berkeley Tenants Union encourages members to apply.
How To Apply “In addition to the 500-word statement about their candidacy, all applications must include the candidate’s full legal name, current living address (post office boxes will not be accepted), telephone and other contact numbers. The applications may be mailed or dropped off at the Rent Board offices at 2125 Milvia St., Berkeley 94704, to the attention of Jen Fabish. Applicants can also email Fabish at email@example.com. All applications are public documents.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/02/16/berkeley-rent-board-seeks-applicants-vacant-seat/
re: Item 1, Second Reading of Short Term Rentals Law
Berkeley Tenants Union letter to City Council
February 14, 2017
Berkeley Tenants Union members have spent countless hours waiting to address the City Council in the past several years to deliver our message: in order to protect our rental housing stock, Council should only ease the ban on Short Term Rentals (STRs) a little bit at a time. We have been asking City Council for years to please JUST allow renters and owners to rent THEIR OWN HOMES for the short term, and move on to enforcing the existing ban on other STRs as soon as possible.
We remind you that the ban on renting for less than 14 days was created to make sure there was not an easy way around rent control protections.
We remind you that all permanent housing – even housing that is not rent controlled – contributes to the diversity and affordability of Berkeley.
Some people say they want a compromise; allowing short term rentals for unlimited days when the owner is present WAS a compromise — those rooms could ALSO be used for students and other permanent residents.
We join the Rent Board in asking Council to please change the language in Section 23C.22.020D – BTU has always asked that Council not allow rentals for less than 14 days in any whole unit that could be used for people who live and work in Berkeley. Berkeley Tenants need you to preserve all existing housing for residents, and to create new housing. We do not want new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to be used as vacation rentals – we worked hard to get that into the initial Council referral for the ADU law many years ago – but it did not get put into that final draft. Berkeley Tenants have always asked that Council not allow STRs in any existing in-laws, or even converted garages – if they have a kitchen. It doesn’t matter if someone bought it last week, wants to use it for their nanny, father or second cousin. Berkeley people need that housing!
We are very concerned that Section 23C.22.020D will encourage new owners to evict long term tenants.
BTU members have also been consistent in our other message — simple laws make for better enforcement. Allowing some ADUs to be short term rentals but not others will be confusing for owners as well as adding an additional layer, and thus additional costs, for enforcement.
We did not send people to the Council meeting on January 24th because we thought that the leaders we worked so hard to get elected this fall had heard our pleas. We are not asking members to come out on Tuesday for the same reason – we expect you to preserve housing and create new housing, not establish new hotel rooms.
Two Berkeley renters died last week in a case of carbon monoxide poisoning.
News reports did not say if the building’s owner was required to have installed a carbon monoxide detector, but BTU thought this would be a good time to remind all renters that MOST apartments have been required by state law to have CO detectors since 2013. Single-family and duplex homes were required to have the alarms as of July 2011.
Carbon monoxide does not smell. CO alarms are required on every floor, including basements, and should be placed in hallways outside of bedrooms. The law applies only to homes and buildings that have a gas heater or appliance, fireplace or attached garage. It is the renter’s responsibility to check and replace batteries.
500 People Die Each Year “Because it is not a disease that requires reporting for record keeping, it is difficult to find statistics on how many illnesses and deaths occur from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Bay Area. But about 500 people die and 20,000 are injured each year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In San Francisco, Pacific Gas & Electric crews have responded to 757 carbon monoxide investigation calls so far in 2012, said utility spokesman Joe Molica.” http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Monoxide-detector-rules-expand-Jan-1-4079115.php
Short Term Rentals to new City Council January 24th
There are two proposals before the Council tomorrow. One would allow folks who have been breaking the law by renting their “in-law” unit to visitors to continue to do so while continuing to ban others with in-laws (the ones who have been abiding by the current law) from short term rentals. Yes, you heard me. Item 41a would reward some duplex owners who have been breaking the law by “grandfathering” their short term rentals! This item is a carry-over from the previous City Council, and BTU hopes and expects the new Council to see the inherent risk to renters and reject Item 41a.
Instead, BTU is asking the City Council to support proposals by the Rent Stabilization Board (see below) which would make Item 41b into a short term rentals law much closer to what we have all hoped for: one that would protect our housing stock while allowing owners and tenants to rent their own homes out on AirBnB and other platforms now and again for some extra cash.
When is a Kitchen not a Kitchen?
The whole vote on Tuesday will be made extra-confusing by an adjunct proposal; Item 42 changes the definition of kitchen. This may also be an issue renters and those concerned with housing policies will want to weigh in on: can folks rent their converted garage or other “Accessory Building” as a short term rental? Under Item 41b and 42 the answer will be yes, as long as the building does not have a history of being rented for the long term.
There is just one problem with this compromise regarding Accessory Buildings: the new definition of kitchen says a kitchen is not a kitchen if the refrigerator is small! A kitchen would now be defined as “A habitable space used for preparation of food that contains at least a sink, a refrigerator of no less than 10 cubic feet, and either a cooktop and an oven, or a range.” This leads to the questions: if you can put a full kitchen in your garage, then why would we allow it to be a vacation rental but not a permanent home at a time when we need housing? If you put a kitchen in your garage, will it be safe for short or long-term renters? BTU has always said we are fine with folks renting their garage as a short term rental if it does not have a kitchen, and thus could not be used for long-term housing.
Short Term Rentals Enforcement
Last summer the Council also directed staff to take action to enforce the existing ban on rentals of less than 14 days if an owner had more than three units listed for the short term. BTU worked with Councilmember Worthington’s office to provide information about several such owners. So far we have not heard of any action taken. Also last summer, the staff from Berkeley put out an RFP and decided to hire a private firm called Host Compliance to enforce the new rules. The firm also contracts with Oakland, Napa, Los Angeles, Denver, Toronto and many other cities, according to their website.
The Rent Board’s recommendations to Council also include language to make enforcement of the new law more effective.
Rent Board Gives Advice “The Board is requesting that Council consider proposed revisions to language in the definition of Short-Term Rental (23C.22030 –D) and Host Residence (23C.22030 –D). I addition, we believe there should be a definition for Long-Term Rental and have provided possible language. The Board also recommended that Council adopt enforcement language similar to the City of San Francisco to prevent hosting platforms from ignoring local regulations.” RSB to Council: rent-board-strs-2017 Harr / Simon-Weisberg Proposal: harr-simonweisberg-strs-2017
Soto-Vigil Proposal: soto-vigil-strs-2017
Student Groups Support Harrison in District 4 “We have an opportunity in Berkeley today to lead the way on progressive solutions to our nation’s challenges and ensure that the legacy we leave for those who follow in our paths is an equitable, sustainable, affordable and livable community for years to come. Kate will bring the lessons she has learned from her work as a consultant on the global stage to keep our city welcoming and inclusive and make it an even better place to call home.” http://www.dailycal.org/2017/01/20/students-support-kate-harrison-district-4-city-council-special-election/
Permits Bureaucracy Drives Events Underground “Everything about the permitting system is designed to discourage the type of electronic music events that people want to hold, Keenan said, from dropping off special permit applications at the city’s Eastmont police substation on 73rd Avenue, to the applications themselves that say in block-faced letters: “Dancing is not permitted between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m.” Plus, permits have to be filed at least 30 days in advance. And, it can also be incredibly costly, he said. Each permit has its own associated fee, and while special event permits are only $50, extended-hour cabaret licenses can run as high as $2,900, according to the city’s master fee schedule. There’s also the added cost of hiring security for the event if the city deems it necessary, and acquiring insurance, which is also required.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/12/09/musicians-artists-costly-permitting-system-forces-events-underground/
Oakland Tries to Shut Down Legit Activist Space David Keenan is a BTU Member. “Omni founding member David Keenan said the experience calls into question public statements from Mayor Libby Schaaf that city officials would not be conducting a “witch hunt” and would be using “compassion” in their handling of fire and code enforcement complaints. Those types of complaints spiked in the two weeks after the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood earlier this month.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/12/28/omni-commons-experience-highlights-oaklands-heavy-handed-approach-for-artist-spaces/
Berkeley Tenants Union members voted overwhelmingly to support BTU member Kate Harrison for City Council in the upcoming special election.
On Sunday, BTU joined with old friends Berkeley Citizens Action and new allies Berkeley Progressive Alliance to host a forum between the two candidates for District 4, Berkeley’s downtown City Council district. Berkeley will hold an election by mail to fill the seat left open when BTU member Jesse Arreguin became Mayor. Ballots must be postmarked by March 7.
Only about 20% of BTU members made the trek in heavy rains to cast a vote, yet almost every audience member submitted a question for the forum. The majority of questions focused on housing, displacement, and homelessness, but police accountability was also an issue. To guide members in voting, BTU / BCA / BPA also distributed responses from Harrison and graduate student Ben Gould to members of the three groups before the meeting.
Gould was a good sport about supporting the landlord tax U1 in the last election, but he did tell the Daily Cal that the main differences between himself and Kate Harrison are their policies regarding housing, so BTU voters should take a close look at both candidates.
Harrison Has Experience
“As a leader in passing Measure U-1, Harrison led volunteer efforts to secure $4 million a year in new revenues from the windfall profits of Berkeley largest landlords. These new revenues are to use to create and preserve affordable housing for the people of Berkeley. Harrison earned her master’s degree in Public Policy from Berkeley’s Goldman School. In her professional career, Harrison has managed state and municipal budgets and improved government efficiency while ensuring vital public services are maintained and employees treated fairly. Harrison’s work experience includes policy and executive positions in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office under Art Agnos, and at the California Administrative Office of the Courts….” http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2016-11-25/article/45183?headline=Kate-Harrison-Enters-Berkeley-District-Four-Council-Race
Like progressives all over America, Berkeley voters are sad, angry and frightened about the national election results. However, we have a lot to celebrate at home, and can look forward to once again leading these United States in progressive, humane, and innovative solutions, particularly to the problem of ensuring safe and affordable homes for all.
The big landlords who control about 50% of all rental housing in Berkeley spent about a million dollars to defeat the affordable housing tax Measure U1, and promote their deceptive Measure DD. That is well over $15 per voter! Yet Berkeley voters reaffirmed affordable housing as a core Berkeley value with 75% voting for U1 and 71% voting against DD. This tax on large landlords is expected to generate $4 million annually in new revenue for affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs!!
East Palo Alto also passed a similar landlord tax, and it is hoped this will be a model to take back profits being drained out of our communities and use them to build homes.
Additionally, Berkeley supported stronger protections for families being evicted for owners to move in. Measure AA, which passed with an astounding 73% of the vote, was put on the ballot at the request of the Rent Board.
ProRenter candidates also got strong support from Berkeley. Renter Cheryl Davila beat incumbent Darryl Moore in District 2 despite generous spending by the Association of Realtors for Moore. BTU Members Ben Bartlett and Sophie Hahn were also elected to the City Council, and BTU Member Jesse Arreguin was elected as Mayor!
Perhaps the best news of all for tenants is that landlord incumbent Judy Hunt was voted off the Rent Board, with the “CALI Slate” chosen at the 2016 Tenant Convention easily defeating Hunt’s tiny team.
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, California gained its first new rent control in decades, and even in places like Alameda, where the tenant measure was defeated, renters did gain new protections on November 8.
Soon the new City Council will move forward on core BTU issues like Short Term Rentals and mitigations for Demolition of Rent Controlled Units. BTU will work to guide our new leaders, who we hope will be more responsive to what everyday folks need in order to keep Berkeley a place we can all call home.
Landslide for Landlord Tax “Berkeley voters approved a landlord tax that will raise millions for affordable housing. The measure, U1, passed with about 74 percent of the vote. A competing measure, which landlord groups placed on the ballot in an effort to undermine U1, was crushed, with 71 percent voters rejecting it…
Proponents of U1 filed a state Fair Political Practices Commission complaint against the Berkeley Property Owners Association, alleging they broke the law by using anonymous LLCs to finance their opposition campaign and make it appear that a large group of landlords were opposing the measure, when in fact it was just a handful. The FPPC hasn’t ruled on the complaint yet.” http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2016/11/09/berkeley-landlord-tax-easily-passes
Berkeley Gets Activist Renter as Mayor “Arreguin said, “I am a renter. I’m like many people in Berkeley, I’m trapped in this housing crisis.” http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/11/11/berkeleys-first-latino-mayor-elect-is-also-its-youngest-ever/
Progressives Take Three of Four Council Seats “Sophie Hahn handily won the District 5 council seat being vacated by Capitelli, defeating another candidate with real estate industry backing, Stephen Murphy, 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent. Hahn is a member of the Zoning Adjustments Board. Capitelli endorsed Murphy, his appointee to the Planning Commission and the panel’s current chairman.
Berkeley for several years has been the scene of a major debate over skyrocketing rents and the shortage of affordable housing, with a six-person council majority backing many controversial development-related issues.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/11/09/berkeley-voters-elect-arreguin-mayor/
Details on Rent Control Votes “Measure L in Richmond, which would enact limits on rent increases and landlord evictions, was victorious with 64 percent of the votes cast. In Oakland, with all 279 precincts reporting, 74 percent of voters supported Measure JJ, which requires landlords to get permission from the rent board before increasing rents above the consumer price index and expands eviction protections. In Mountain View, Measure V, which was placed on the ballot by voters, had a slim victory with 53 percent, while W, the council-backed measure fell short with 49 percent.
In Alameda, ground zero for the battle for rent control, Measure M1, the strict tenant rent control measure sponsored by tenants groups, only garnered 34 percent of the vote, well shy of the necessary simple majority. Instead, 56 percent of voters approved L1, a competing, council-backed initiative that did not cap rent increases. Instead landlords must go to mediation in order to increase rents above 5 percent. And in San Mateo County, Measure R in Burlingame mustered just 31 percent of voters, while Measure Q in San Mateo got 38 percent.” http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/11/03/bay-area-rent-control-measures/
Record Spending and Fair Political Practices Complaint “The political action committee for the Berkeley Property Owners Association has steered more than $892,540 in donations to defeat Measure U1 and promote Measure DD, two competing measures that would raise the business tax on rental units… Most of the donors to the “Committee for Real Affordable Housing – Yes on Measure DD, No on Measure U1, Sponsored by the Berkeley Property Owners’ Association,” have not made contributions in their own names. They have used the LLC they created to run various apartment complexes. UC Berkeley’s Progressive Student Alliance filed a complaint about this practice with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is investigating the situation.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/11/07/fight-involving-measure-dd-and-measure-u1-is-costliest-in-election/
It’s a funny thing law makers have to deal with: the people! Anything approved by the voters can only be changed by the voters. We out-rank the City Council, the Rent Board, even the state legislature. However, this also ties the hands of elected officials.
That is why Measure AA on the November 8th ballot in Berkeley is a much-needed fix. In November 2000, voters approved relocation funds and eviction protections for elderly and disabled tenants when Berkeley experienced the first big wave of owner-move-in evictions (OMI). But now the only way to update the 16-year-old relocation amounts is to go to the ballot box with Measure AA.
The Good News?
The City Council just raised the relocation funds for tenants thrown out for the other common no-fault eviction, the Ellis Act. Eviction restrictions and relocation funds for the Ellis Act were not decided by the voters, so City Council was permitted to update Ellis relocation assistance following a request by the Rent Board.
Berkeley Measure AA
“Measure AA is endorsed by many different groups, because it supports education, preserves diversity, and by slowing displacement it also helps the environment.” http://www.berkeleymeasureaa.org/
In Other News
Election Complaint Against Measure DD A UC student association filed a complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission regarding campaign law violations by the landlord group “Committee for Real Affordable Housing Yes on Measure DD, No on Measure U1, Sponsored By Berkeley Property Owners Association.”
According to the press release, the list of violations “…includes multiple advertisements and literature that does not include the mandatory disclosure requirements. In one case, a mailed document was sent without proper disclosure, and was deceptively designed to look like an official government document.” pressreleasereaffordablehousingproponentsslambiglandlordsoncampaignviolations
At the April 2016 Tenant Convention – sponsored by BTU and many other community organizations – a record turnout of Berkeley progressives selected a team of four candidates for Rent Board. Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Igor Tregub are your team – vote CALI!
However, the Pro-Tenant CALI team has opposition! Sitting landlord Commissioner Judy Hunt only managed to recruit one young property manager to run for election as part of her slate.
One of the major differences between the two groups is their positions on the ballot measures that most impact renters: Measure AA and Measures U1/DD. The team chosen at the Tenant Convention all support Measure AA and Measure U1 and consider the landlords’ measure DD a dangerous deception. Hunt was the only vote on the Rent Board not supporting U1. She repeatedly refused to vote for Measure AA as a Commissioner, though it was put on the ballot at the request of the Rent Board to update parts of the Rent Ordinance which got behind the times. (Measure AA is non-controversial, has no official opposition except Hunt and Wollman, and is endorsed by the School Board and Berkeley Federation of Teachers.)
Property Manager Wollman is one of the main critics of Measure U1’s exemption of new construction from the tax to encourage building of more housing, although he strongly supports more development in his Rent Board platform. “We have a lot of so called progressives that harp on the ideals of making this city more inclusive, more affordable, more accessible to students and low income renters and then go an protest at zoning board meetings about proposed developments,” Wollman told Berkeleyside.
Learn More About CALI:
The schedule shows the CALI team is out talking to voters with their supporters every Saturday and Sunday. They also plan to hold phone banks. http://berkeleyrentboard.org/
This is a big election for renters since the housing crisis has morphed into a housing emergency that has seen a record number of Cal students homeless while in school, the rapid displacement of longtime South Berkeley families, and a dramatic increase in both legal but pretextual evictions and general tenant harassment.
BTU shared our ballot measure endorsements meeting with our allies at Berkeley Citizens Action — the full endorsement list for Measures is at the bottom of this post.
Berkeley: More Eviction Protections So far, Berkeley’s Measure AA has no declared opposition, and is endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic Party, Green Party of Alameda County, Berkeley School Board, East Bay Young Dems, Berkeley Tenants Union and Wellstone Democratic Club.
The measure, put on the ballot by the City Council at the request of the Berkeley Rent Board, delays “no fault” owner-move-in evictions (OMIs) of families with school-age children until end of school year and increases relocation funds. Voters have required landlords in OMIs to provide relocation help of $4,500 to low-income tenants, but not other tenants, since 2000. Measure AA would update this amount to $15,000, and require that it be paid to all tenant households, plus an additional $5,000 for low-income, disabled, age 60 or older, or long-term (since 1998) tenants.
Relocation funds help evicted renters stay in the area, which is good for the community and the environment.
Berkeley v. Big Landlords
Of course, the big news this year is the controversy generated by competing ballot measures based on the failed 2014 volunteer signature drive called Robin Hood. The Daily Planet reported that the Berkeley Property Owners Association has spent over $500,000 – that’s half a million dollars – to stop Measure U1. The Planet says that is the second most money spent in Berkeley history!
The grassroots campaign needs each and every renter in Berkeley to get up to speed and talk to their friends and neighbors – U1 can’t afford to compete with glossy mailers or pay students $15 an hour to hang something on your door! Renters should study up on the differences between U1 and DD and help Berkeley get the most affordable housing!
Who Supports Yes on U1 and No on DD?
The League of Women Voters: Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville
Alameda County Democratic Party, Wellstone, John George
East Bay Housing Organizations, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, BOSS
California Alliance for Retired Americans, ASUC, Berkeley Student Coop, Cal Dems
Sierra Club, Green Party, Greenbelt Alliance
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy
Alameda County Housing Bond Measure A1 “The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to place a $580 million housing bond on the November ballot. This measure is a much needed investment in affordable homes for low-income renters, homeownership, and an Innovation Fund to seek new solutions to our housing crisis. It will require that 20% of the rental housing units be reserved for extremely low-income households at or below 20% Area Median Income, provide homeownership opportunities, and provide support to help keep residents in their homes.” http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/07/28/op-ed-confronting-the-causes-and-solutions-of-mass-homelessness/comment-page-1/