Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rent Stabilization Board - Berkeley, CA

There is something capricious about elections with low voter turnout, and all the more so for the races voters skip even as they are filling out their ballots. I plan on doing a more thorough analysis of this phenomenon, however in the rent board election, it was prevalent. Across Berkeley, there were on average just 2.12 votes for rent board candidates for every ballot cast even though voters were technically instructed to vote for four candidates.

Rent board candidates were allied with two opposing slates, the Tenants Convention Slate (TCS) and the Tenants United for For Fairness (TUFF) slate. There were some fairly contentious issues between the two slates, as well as serious allegations, grand jury reports, shifting allegiances, and advocacy by TUFF for the rights of landlords as well as tenants. Both Berkeleyside and the Berkeley Daily Planet did an excellent job of covering the lurid details. Nevertheless, it is not clear voters chose one slate over another. The name "Judy" was popular apparently. Not so the name Igor Tregub, an incumbent and the only member of the Tenant Convention Slate not to win election.

"Slate voting was definitely down this year," according to Rob Wrenn of the Berkeley Daily Planet, who has tallied the results of many Berkeley elections and shared some of his thoughts via email. "Rent control is not the hot issue it once was and more voters seem, if they bother to vote at all, to be picking and choosing from the two slates rather than casting a straight slate vote." Rob went on to explain:
Judy Shelton (TCS) came in among the top four in an amazing 91 of 100 precincts, not counting the one person precinct in southwest Berkeley. She finished first in 61 by my count. And Judy Hunt of the opposing slate finished in the top four in 52 precincts. This could never have happened, and never did happen, in the contested elections of the 1990s.
Not that Berkeley voters have ever gotten THAT excited for Rent Board elections, even when there was a tangible feeling of something-at-stake. Rob Wrenn says that back in the 1990s, "who controlled the rent board made a material difference in the lives of everyone who lived in a rent-controlled unit." That is because twenty years ago, the rent board had broader control over how much landlords could charge and over rent increases. As of the late 1990s, when the awkward terms vacancy decontrol and formula annual adjustments became a thing, landlords can charge what they can get whenever they lease to a new tenant. By Rob's accounting, "The last contested election with two full slates of 4 candidates each in a presidential year was in 1992." In that year, Berkeley voters cast a whopping 2.82 votes per ballot. In other words, then, as now, there was a fair amount of apathy involved.

Nevertheless, certain patterns persist in our Berkeley voting habits, with the hills voting differently than the alluvial plains, and the students not voting in between. I look forward to highlighting the one-voter precinct in southwest Berkeley in a future post, without compromising that lonely voter's anonymity. I would like to ask him or her -- why did you cast only one vote for Rent Board?

Template developed by Confluent Forms LLC