Only in Berkeley • October 1, 2005
If you missed the City Council’s vote to legalize conflicts of interest on the Rent Board, don’t feel bad. Most of the Council missed it too. The effort to keep this issue secret was so successful, in fact, that most Councilmembers never read the legal opinion they were voting to override. It was as impressive a display of power and arrogance as we’ve seen in awhile from this Council majority.
For those of you keeping score at home, the vote was 6 to 2 to 1. That is, only Gordon Wozniak (D.8) and Betty Olds (D.7) stood up for basic principles of good government. Laurie Capitelli (D.5) took no position.
The issue was simple. On May 19 this year, the City Attorney issued a legal opinion that Jesse Arreguin could not legally serve on both the Rent Board and Housing Advisory Commission at the same time. The reasoning was clear (not "puzzling," as the Daily Cal editors found it). These two boards are legally incompatible. They have overlapping jurisdictions, and sometimes contrary missions or positions. For example, the HAC might hear an appeal of an abatement order. It would be impossible for a Rent Boarder to be neutral when the Rent Board had already voted to support one side.
It’s not a hypothetical issue. The City Attorney wrote that this precise situation arose over the Drayage Building. The City Attorney also specifically mentioned condo-conversion as an area of "incompatibility." And BPOA pointed out that the Rent Board had voted to give $200,000 directly to the HAC in April.
The Council’s vote wasn’t limited to the Rent Board and HAC. In the future, it will be perfectly acceptable for the Mayor to appoint a single person to sit simultaneously on the Zoning Board, the Planning Board, and the Landmarks Commission. Talk about controlling development!
For years, Kriss Worthington has appointed an elected Rent Board official to sit on the Housing Advisory Commission. It’s a simple act of consolidating power—as if George Bush appointed Vice President Dick Cheney to serve as Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy as well. In exchange, the public loses a measure of truly democratic debate.
BPOA doesn’t think that city commissions should be manipulated through a spoils system, where the winner of each Council election is encouraged to consolidate control over citizen commissions through multiple, overlapping appointments. Conflict of interest rules exist for a reason, and they should be respected. No matter who is in power.