The pro-tenant, ‘Right To Housing’ slate sweeps Berkeley rent board election

The slate definitely took four seats and is poised to win the fifth.

Twelve people ran for Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board. Top row: Bahman Ahmadi, Bianca Zahrai, Soulmaz Panahi, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld, and Carole Marasovi; bottom row, Mari Mendonca, Pawel Moldenhawer, Dan McDunn, Andy Kelley, Dominique Walker and Xavier Johnson. Courtesy: Candidates

The pro-tenant slate for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board appears to have swept the election Tuesday night, definitely winning four if not five seats, despite the fact that the National Association of Realtors Fund and a public relations firm spent $137,000 to defeat it.

Leah Simon-Weisberg, an incumbent on the Right to Housing slate, won the most votes, followed by Andy Kelley, Xavier Johnson and Dominque Walker, part of the Oakland-based Moms4Housing group.

Mari Mendoca, who is also an incumbent, came in fifth. She has a 479-vote lead over the next highest vote-getter, Bahman Ahmadi, who ran on the Homeowners for Rent Board slate. The real estate independent expenditure groups spent more than $59,000 backing him. Other members of that slate include Dan McDunn, Soulmaz Panahi, Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld and Pawel Moldenhawer. Two independent candidates, Carole Marasovic and Bianca Zahrai, also ran.

Measure MM, which will require more rental properties to register with the rent board, also appears to be winning by a 54% to 48% margin. The measure will expand the types of properties that have to register and provide ownership information to the rent board to include single-family rental houses and apartments constructed after 1980. It also specified that ADUs are exempt from rent control but only if they are built on single parcels, not on parcels with multi-unit complexes. It also prohibits evictions for nonpayment of rent during declared emergencies.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters issued about 79,000 ballots. About 57,000 had been returned and about 32,000 had been counted as of today. The return rate for the entire city is 73% as of Wednesday, Nov. 4. The next update is not expected until Thursday.

Simon-Weisberg criticized the amount of money the National Association of Realtors Fund and Highwire Strategies, a Sacramento-based PR firm, poured into the race.

“This is an example of how troubling it is that we don’t have the ability to control dark money,” said Simon-Weisberg. “It’s heartening people in Berkeley can see through this.”

She also said the lack of experience of the members of the Homeowners for Rent Board slate worked against them.

Dan McDunn, one of the members of the Homeowners’ slate, slammed the results, saying “Berkeley is going to be Berkeley.”

The city lacks any kind of “fiscal awareness,” he said.

“People don’t understand how destructive rent control is,” said McDunn. “The big losers are the tenants because everything the rent board does to make it better for tenants does the opposite.”

He also said Berkeley’s thought process is controlled by a small group of professional politicians and Democratic clubs like the John George Democratic Club and Berkeley Democratic Club, among others. He said the city needs more “citizen servants” rather than professional politicians.

“I am pretty disgusted and am happy to be out,” he said.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.