Opinion: The time to end the housing crisis is now — my vision for Berkeley as your next city auditor

I am running for city auditor with the intention of taking ownership of the two biggest problems in Berkeley: housing and homelessness.

It’s time for Berkeley to end the affordable housing crisis. We must admit that there is only one way to bring housing costs down — by building enough new units to at least quadruple our rental housing supply and to then position our city for continued long-term growth. It’s time to move the dialogue from the futile and insane question of “should we grow?” to the more relevant and forward-looking “what do we want to grow?”

The data from across the nation is quite clear: where there are fewer limits to new construction, there is more affordable housing. It is also equally undeniable that a lot more new construction means a lot more tax revenue that can be used to both build the new infrastructure and also to bring the Berkeley budget into balance, especially if we simultaneously cap total employee compensation. Last but not least, the only way towards our sustainability goals is urban density. The data is quite conclusive that the carbon footprint of an urban dweller is fractional to that of someone living rurally, and that’s today, when our cities are incredibly poorly designed.

I am Vladislav Davidzon, and I am running for city auditor with the intention of taking ownership of the two biggest problems in Berkeley: housing and homelessness. With 20 years in business management, I know how to balance budgets, hire and fire people, and I am most certainly not afraid to upset people in order to achieve results.

The job of the auditor, defined by Section 61 of the City Charter, is to represent the taxpayers and to save taxpayer funds by solving real issues.

I believe that if the city officials are not terrified of the auditor, the auditor is simply not doing the job. As your auditor, I will vigorously assault, degrade and destroy the roadblocks within the Zoning Adjustment Board, the Planning Department, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and other city entities that prevent or slow down new housing construction. The voters of Berkeley spoke loud and clear when we rejected Measure R in 2014 by 2/3rds margin, and it’s time to let democracy do its job.

To achieve these objectives, I believe the office of the auditor must be staffed by lawyers, and that the default tone of the Office needs to be hostile and aggressive. Under my leadership, the office of auditor will breathe fire down the necks of the folks who oppose new construction in this city; every legal option will be kept on the table, every single technicality examined, and no stone will be left unturned. The City Charter Section 61 explicitly gives the right to the auditor to review all aspects of the city operations, including the commissions, and to interrogate any “witnesses” involved under oath. The same Section 61 also empowers the auditor to review and counter-sign every city contract and payment check.

I hold an incredibly expansive view of the powers of the office, and the boundaries of those powers will likely need to be litigated. There is a really interesting question of under what circumstances the Auditor may refuse to sign city checks and contracts. As far as I am aware, Berkeley has never had a hostile or aggressive auditor. Notably, City Charter Section 61 speaks of the cases where the auditor *shall not* issue checks, but does not speak of circumstances under which the auditor *shall* issue those checks. These boundaries will likely need to be litigated, and I fully intend to use the full powers granted to the Auditor by the City Charter to help push through new housing projects.

While I am certainly willing to wage righteous warfare, I am interested in collaboration first and foremost; and to speak softly but carry a big stick. We know from the results of Measure R (2014) that the NIMBYs who oppose that construction are a relatively tiny minority who are standing in the way of progress and the desires of the overwhelming majority. These are realities, and the realities need to be guiding the overall dialogue. I will work with the City Council accordingly based on these factual realities.

The most important power of the auditor actually isn’t in the charter. It is the power to communicate these issues directly to the taxpayers. I believe a LOT of the data the city puts out is misleading at best, and more likely outright false (see the city’s website statement on what their employees are paid – and then compare it to TransparentCalifornia, for example). I don’t believe the taxpayers are aware that our meter maids are earning $125k/year total compensation, and I am quite certain that’s only the very tip of the iceberg.

I am the only 100% independent candidate in this election. I am spending only my own money in this campaign, I do not accept any contributions, I do not accept any endorsements, and I will not be beholden to either the city employee unions nor the developers. I am certainly not afraid to upset people in order to solve real problems, and no matter the outcome of this election, I will continue to spend my money to advocate for coherent public policies for the city I have come to love. Notably, my first act in office will be to reduce the total compensation paid to the auditor (the position for which I am running) from the current exorbitant $233,000 a year to $100,000 a year. No one should ever get rich through public service.

In contrast, my opponent is unbelievably actually endorsed by the very mayor and city officials whose decisions she would be overseeing as city auditor! The dictionary has a specific word for that: CORRUPTION. Her mentor, Ann-Marie Hogan, the current auditor who appears to have hand-picked my opponent, is an absolute embarrassment who has rubber-stamped every mistake the city has made, and Hogan is retiring to leave behind an absolute trainwreck of financial irresponsibility: over $600 million in unfunded liabilities and crumbling infrastructure like those pools Berkeley filled in with dirt, and the pier that’s falling into the bay. My opponent is running on this insane legacy of irresponsibility, gross waste, and horrific abuse of taxpayer resources. Sometimes the truth is much stranger than fiction.

My professional record as the CEO of the Regenerative Leadership Institute speaks for itself. I am proud of that record without exception as there are nearly half a million people in 190+ countries who are living more sustainable and healthier lives because of the companies I have built. My opponents will undoubtly point to the less than three dozen total complaints about my businesses, representing a less than a 0.02% complaint ratio (and thus a 99.98% satisfaction rate), while blatantly ignoring the over two thousand (2000+) public testimonials from people whose lives have been positively changed by my work. My skillset is a both unique and incredibly diverse Swiss Army knife. I’ve led teams in incredibly challenging environments, and I’ve done large-scale data analytics, including the management of a seven-figure marketing budget. Having worked in a war zone under literal gunfire, (in International Solidarity Movement in Palestine across two trips in 2003) I am also not easily intimidated and know how to keep going when the going gets really intensely rough. I’ve hired and fired people, negotiated contracts, audited staff performance, and have consistently driven bottom-line results in my companies for over twenty years.

Berkeley voters can expect me to lead the Office of Auditor with the same thoughtful deliberation, ruthless determination, and total commitment to results, which has defined the entirety of my professional career. With over 20 years of business management and leadership experience, I am ready to take OWNERSHIP of this situation and to LEAD. We have a housing CRISIS. The time to act is NOW.

This election the voters get a clear choice between the incompetence of the past and the audacity of the future. I do not shy away from hard conversations, nor do I play the political calculus bullshit all too common in our dysfunctional political system. The contrast between myself and my opponent could not be more clear, and regardless of the outcome of this election, I will certainly continue to spend my money to aggressively advocate for sanity, coherency, and a sustainable future for the city I fiercely love.

Vladislav Davidzon is the CEO of Abundance Research, Inc and is the former founder and CEO of ThinkHost, Inc, which was sold in 2008. His views are his own and do not represent those of his businesses or any parties affiliated with those businesses.