Berkeley's Rent Board Election Degenerates Into Farce

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 02, 2012 - 07:39:00 AM

Trying to keep up with the last days of the Berkeley Municipal Election 2012, I feel like I’ve landed in the middle of a French bedroom farce. For those of you too young to remember when sex could be silly, that would be, per Wikipedia, a “light comedy centered on the sexual pairings and recombinations of characters as they move through improbable plots and slamming doors.”

Not, of course, that sex itself has much to do with most of the Berkeley elections, with the possible exception of the endorsement of one of the mayoral candidates by a state senator. Oh, and perhaps with one of the Rent Board candidates

But “pairings and recombinations” with “improbable plots and slamming doors’? Sure, we’ve got those in spades. 

I have right here on my desk a small pile of glossy large postcards sent my way by…who sent them, anyhow? There’s a new addition to the Berkeley Election Reform Act proposed by the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission that will require such documents to list not only the fanciful name of the committee which pays the bills, but the top four contributors to said committee. 

But guess what? The Berkeley City Council majority in its infinite wisdom decided to delay implementation of this laudable change until after the election. Makes sense to me…who wants to be held accountable? 

So here, as Exhibit A, we have an 8 ½ by 11 color piece headed “Reform the Rent Board.” A box in the upper left corner tells us that something called Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness has “prepared” it. Or rather, specifically, it says: 

“NOTICE TO VOTERS: THIS DOCUMENT WAS PREPARED BY BERKELEY TENANTS UNITED FOR FAIRNESS, SMO #1352400, NOT AN OFFICIAL POLITICAL PARTY ORGANIZATION. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidates and ballot measure which is designated by an *.” 

Well, then, that seems perfectly clear, doesn’t it? 

What about those “pairings and recombinations”? Let’s take a look. 

Asterisks (*) appear after the names of four featured candidates. Three out of the four are identified as tenants, all claiming to be endorsed in various combinations (with no internal logic) by some of the majority incumbent non-progressive councilmembers, including ex-Progs Bates, Maio, Moore and consistent Mods Wengraf, Capitelli, Wozniak. 

Is it significant that not all of these honchos endorse all four candidates? How would we know? 

Candidate Nicole Drake, who’s already on the rent control board though she’s missed many meetings, is described as a “10-year Berkeley tenant”. However, Drake, Councilmember Linda Maio’s city-paid aide, reportedly cohabits with Darryl Moore’s city-paid aide Ryan Lau, who is listed on one web site as owning the single-family home that they are both listed on another site as living in together. 

If this is true, is she exactly his “tenant” or something else? This should not be taken as a covert hint that they practice heterosexuality (shocking!) when they’re at home, but it certainly comes under the heading of “pairings”. 

And also: there’s a separate section on this mailer devoted to “No on Measure U”. What was Measure U again? Oh yes, the Sunshine Ordinance. 

Why should these rent board candidates be so strongly opposed to a sunshine law, which many cities including Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco already have? Here we see the “slammed doors”—what’s behind them? What do all these people, candidates and endorsers both, have to hide? 

It turns out, as former Planning Commission Chair Rob Wrenn has documented here, that No on Measure U has become a handy device for laundering money to support unrelated candidates and issues. In fact, the East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC (that would be landlords) appears in Berkeley’s campaign finance reports as an “independent expenditure committee” which gave TUFF about $19,000 to pay for “appearance on slate mailer in opposition to Berkeley Measure U.” 

But this information doesn’t appear in the report of the only official opposition to Measure U listed on the city’s campaign finance website—a committee called “Vote Berkeley Coalition - Yes on M, No on U.” 

So, in case you’re keeping score on combinations, we have the anti-tenant rent board slate in bed with the landlords and also with No on U, and we have another, different, No on U group in bed with Yes on M, which is supposed to be promoting issuing bonds to repair streets. (I can’t even begin to explain this last pairing, unless Measure M can’t stand sunshine either.) 

And then there are the council candidates. Darryl Moore, who was once the aide for progressive Councilmember and mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington, was originally elected in District 2 as a progressive, but in this election he’s come up with some strange new bedfellows himself. He stars in a different mailer, also financed by TUFF, headlined New Progressive Leadership Supported by Darryl Moore, but this one turns out to be flogging those same landlord-backed rent board candidates. 

Landlords, the new progressives! Who knew? 

Finally, someone has sent me a mailer with the imprimatur of California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee, an organization also documented previously on this site. This piece features a couple of toothy photos of Realtor®/Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. These must have been surreptitiously sucked off the internet, since independent expenditure committees aren’t legally supposed to be working with candidates at all, right? It also has some remarks in quotation marks, seemingly quotes from Capitelli—perhaps also acquired without his knowledge? Now there’s an “improbable plot” for you, isn’t it? 

Another one of these “independent” mailers from CREIEC, this one on behalf of Darryl Moore, has surfaced, though I haven’t been able to see one yet. There’s a rumor is that all of CREIEC’s Capitelli mailers were sent to Moore’s district and all Moore mailers were sent to Capitelli’s district, according to people who called me when they got the wrong one. The only person I’ve talked to who got the Moore version does in fact live in District 5, not District 2, so it could be true. 

It seems that CREIEC hired Associated Campaign Consulting & Election Services, LLC, of Washington, DC, to spend the money on mailings and online ads—and it looks like someone there got the districts transposed. A staunch opponent of Measure T, beloved of both Moore and Capitelli, who lives in Moore’s District 2, reports that her Google account is being deluged with Capitelli ads. And Zelda Bronstein in District 5 is getting online Moore promotions. 

If this is what’s happening, it would be the “farce” part of this campaign. The CREIEC spent $40k on Berkeley councilmembers and they can’t even find the right voters? Maybe they should look behind some of those slammed doors.. 

But the tragedy underlying this farce is that it’s Berkeley that’s going to suffer if all these shenanigans produce just more of the same. The progressive leaders whom we admired in their youth have degenerated into surly guardians of the entrenched power structure, rearranging the deck chairs while the city sinks . 

Measure T is nothing more than spot zoning for private profit, not planning for a sustainable future. Measure R sets the stage for council gerrymandering. Measure S supporters, especially its champion Tom Bates, remind me of nothing so much as the stereotypical old white guy yelling “You damn kids get off of my lawn!” 

Now they’re even trying to sabotage rent control by getting in bed with the landlords to promote their deceptive “New Progressive” slate. 

Berkeley should do better, but if incumbents are re-elected and progressives are kicked off the rent board things will just get worse.