Opinion: Berkeley’s Measure Q – the mysterious measure everyone should vote for

Measure Q amends Berkeley’s Rent Board Ordinance and will encourage adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) to Berkeley’s housing stock.

Measure Q amends Berkeley’s Rent Board Ordinance and will encourage adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) to Berkeley’s housing stock.

ADUs, also called “in-law units” or “granny flats,” are the least expensive and fastest housing to build, and they provide family, community and social benefits at no extra cost! Often, ADUs provide below-market rate rents, experience lower tenant turnover, fewer tenant evictions, and provide tenants an instant homey environment. Because the rents are typically low, California now allows cities to count ADUs toward their low-income housing construction requirements. ADU tenants come to feel like ‘part of the family’, which leads to the lower rents, lower turnover, and lower eviction rates. ADUs provide families with flexibility over time, using the ADU differently as their families’ needs change and families move less often, slowing gentrification and providing more stable neighborhoods.

The Berkeley Rent Board and City Council compromised on the Measure Q ballot language, and no organization formally opposes it.

  • It fully exempts homeowner-occupied Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) from rent control and tenant eviction protections.
  • It also protects tenants currently renting ADUs.
  • If Proposition 10 passes (ending the state mandated “new construction” exemption from rent control), the other amendments will remove Berkeley’s “new construction” exemption. It will phase rent control in over a 20 year period using current rents as the new base rent.

It guarantees owner-occupied single-family properties the rent control exemption homeowner-occupants need to build an ADU with permits. This amendment removes one of the most significant obstacles to homeowner construction of ADUs.

The other Measure Q amendments will take effect only if Proposition 10 passes and repeals the Costa Hawkins law. They remove the “new construction” exemption from Berkeley’s rent control ordinance, and index base rent on the current rent.

ADU advocates win essential support for homeowners to build ADUs; Rent Control advocates win the reinstatement of full rent control in Berkeley (vacancy decontrol will be eliminated)  if statewide voters approve Proposition 10. Neither ADU or rent control advocates got all they wanted, but the Measure Q language makes both groups better off.

Relationship to Proposition 10:

Action on Proposition 10 will not affect this ADU exemption, and vice versa. This exemption, entirely within Berkeley’s Rent Control Ordinance (BMC Chapter 13.76), will remove a huge obstacle that currently discourages homeowners from building ADUs in Berkeley with permits.

Approving Measure Q will not affect the passage of Proposition 10 – but if Prop 10 passes, these amendments will ease Berkeley’s transition back to full rent control.

Q protects Homeowners:

In most cities (including Berkeley) only owner-occupied single-family homeowners may build ADUs. But many homeowners fear losing control over who shares their home. They are deathly afraid of the Rent Board and its rules. If Berkeley wants homeowners to build ADUs with permits, we must provide certainty that they, not the Rent Board, will manage their tenants.

The proposed ballot measure provides homeowners this reassurance! Owners will be free to choose which unit to occupy and which to rent, without losing this rent control exemption. This simple rule cuts through the confusing hodgepodge of today’s ADU rent control rules.

Q protects tenants

The ADU exemption starts with the first tenancy after Nov. 8, 2018. Existing tenants will maintain their current eviction protections until they move. [Note: so-called “Golden Duplex” properties already have this exemption and won’t be affected.]

Q Allows for an amnesty program.

The proposed amendment applies to all legally established ADUs, independent of when they were built or became “legal,” giving Berkeley an opportunity to create an amnesty program to entice owners of its 2,000 unpermitted ADUs to become legal and receive this rent control exemption.

Debbie Sanderson is the co-chair of the East Bay ADU Task Force, which is a volunteer coalition of professionals committed to identifying and removing obstacles to the construction of ADUs in the East Bay.