2018 Electoral Endorsements
Campaigning for democratic socialist candidates and ballot initiatives aligned with our values is only one part of DSA's approach to political organizing. In the East Bay, our members chose a few key races we’re focusing on this year, and below is a little info about each one. This isn’t meant to be a complete voter guide; these are the races we've decided to get involved in, and we think they're all clear choices.
Assembly District 15: Jovanka Beckles
Jovanka’s campaign for the open assembly seat has been a stark contrast in the difference between democratic socialism and corporate democrats. Jovanka's a DSA member, a rank-and-file Teamster at her job (providing mental healthcare to low-income children through county services), and an extremely accomplished city councilwoman in Richmond. Elected with the famed Richmond Progressive Alliance, she and the rest of the RPA slate took control of the Richmond city government away from Chevron, forced the local oil refinery to pay $100 million in back taxes, fund college scholarships for all Richmond students, and adhere to workplace safety and pollution laws they'd long flaunted. They passed a $15-per-hour minimum wage, enacted some of the country's strongest accountability measures for violent cops, brought down the violent crime rate by tackling inequality, and much more. Her platform for the assembly is similarly bold: a Green Jobs program to transition off fossil fuels, a massive social housing construction plan and new tenant protections to address the housing crisis, pass Medicare for All, fully-funded public education and a moratorium on charter schools, a $20-per-hour minimum wage, a year of paid leave for new parents and expanded leave for all workers, a 36-hour work week (with paid overtime for anything past that), and much more.
Her opponent is a standard corporate Democrat, the former head of Hillary Clinton's PAC, and has never held office. Buffy Wicks presents herself as a progressive but opposes rent control and has promised not to support Medicare for All in her first term. As a result, her campaign and allied PACs have been flooded with donations from conservative-leaning billionaires, especially charter school supporters. (We made a gallery of them at https://buffywicks.money.)
The district stretches from North Oakland up through Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, and Hercules. Jovanka's the clear choice. Get all the details at www.jovanka.org.
Proposition 10: Yes
Since 1995, California has had a state law that puts sharp limits on cities' ability pass local rent control laws. We're not allowed to rent control buildings built after a certain date, ever. We can't rent control single-family houses. Every time a tenant moves out, landlords of rent-controlled apartments can jack up the rent as much as they want before locking in the new tenants to small annual increases. That state law is called the Costa-Hawkins act, and Prop 10 repeals it. So if Prop 10 passes, cities would have a lot more leeway to pass their own rent control laws. In most places this would do nothing until the city takes action, but some East Bay cities, like Berkeley and Richmond, have stronger rent control laws already on the books that would kick in as soon as the state stops overriding them. Many of our coalition partners tout the local control as a benefit of Prop 10, but we'd like to see statewide rent control down the road—there's nowhere tenants should be exposed to huge rent increases. Either way, passing Prop 10 opens the door to real rent control in California. More info at https://voteyesonprop10.org/.
Mayor: Melvin Willis; City Council: Ada Recinos and Eduardo Martinez (Team Richmond Slate)
Melvin, Ada, and Eduardo make up this year's Team Richmond, the slate of candidates chosen by our friends in the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Team Richmond candidates run on a shared platform they'll be able to enact in office and agree to take no corporate donations whatsoever. All three candidates are incumbents—Melvin Willis is the current vice mayor, challenging conservative Democratic mayor Tom Butt. Eduardo Martinez was first elected in 2014, against a flurry of Chevron spending, and Ada Recinos was appointed to fill a vacancy last year and is running for re-election for the first time.
When they filled out our candidate questionnaire, there were several times when we asked if they would commit to passing some specific reform (say, $15-per-hour minimum wage), and the answer was yes, they'd already done that and were looking ahead to expand on their gains. This year's platform centers affordable housing and offers a few different approaches. They want to focus on not-for-profit development of new affordable housing, and they're backing a big bond initiative to build affordable housing county-wide. They promise to fast-track construction of in-law apartments and tiny homes and to offer small grants to help low-income people avoid eviction during crises. They also promise to support a regional public bank, to pass a fair scheduling ordinance to protect service industry workers, and to fully fund the public schools. (They've already passed a moratorium on new charter schools.) More at http://www.teamrichmond.net/.
Rent Board: Community Power Slate (Maria Poblet, Paola Laverde, Soli Alpert, James Chang, and John Selawsky)
The Berkeley Tenants' Union hosts an open process every two years to determine their slate of candidates for rent board, giving tenants and individual homeowners a say in who runs and what they promise to do. Anyone else running for rent board de facto has to run against the tenants union, and indeed of their three challengers, two are landlords, and the third is not actively campaigning. This year, all but Soli Alpert are incumbents.
The rent board's job is to hear complaints about landlord-tenant relations and ensure Berkeley's rental laws are applied fairly and without exception. They also often use their position to advocate good housing policy to the city council. The incumbents running for re-election have been great on both fronts, securing money to pay lawyers for low-income people facing eviction, and suggesting a 12-15 year rolling timeframe for rent controlling new buildings if Prop 10 passes. (Sadly, the city council watered this down to 20 years.) Soli, the lone new candidate, is an active East Bay DSA member and student at UC Berkeley. He's running because students—often the least experienced renters, prone to frequent moves and usually new to town—are among Berkeley's most numerous and frequently exploited tenants, but currently have no representation on the rent board. We're sure he'd be an excellent choice for helping student tenants understand and demand their rights.
The rent board is all at-large members, and the election is unranked. Just select these five candidates on your ballot. You can find them at https://berkeleyrentboard2018.org/.
Measure O: Yes
Measure O would leavy a small property tax increase (just under $100 per year on the average home) to raise $135 million for affordable housing in Berkeley. The money would be split among a number of different projects, including land trusts and co-op housing, public housing, supportive housing for people with disabilities, and renovating existing affordable housing to avoid condemnation and house-flipping. The funds raised by the bond would be further augmented by state and federal housing matching funds.
Housing prices have skyrocketed in Berkeley, and working-class people, especially people of color, are being displaced from the city. The university admits more students than it can provide housing for, and off-campus housing is so expensive and so limited in supply that student homelessness is a growing problem. Berkeley's progressive groups are backing Measure O and Measure P together as a combined affordable housing package (though they're separate initiatives because they have separate funding mechanisms). You can find more info on the joint campaign here: https://www.affordableberkeley.org/.
Measure P: Yes
Measure P (colloquially known as "the transfer tax") is a sales tax on luxury real estate, the revenue of which goes towards funding homeless services. The language states that the transfer tax will be raised for the purchase of all land and homes above $1.5 million, which is the top one-third most expensive real estate in Berkeley, and that the brackets will be re-examined to affect only the top one-third year-by-year. The revenue from the increased transfer tax is intended to fund social services, navigation centers, and hygiene services for the homeless population of Berkeley.
The only concern we have is that Measure P is a general tax, not a special tax, which means that there is technically no legal requirement that the funds be spent exclusively on homeless services. However, this was a tactical move from the coalition to support the transfer tax, as general taxes require only 50 percent to pass and special taxes require a two-thirds vote. In addition, the measure also creates a panel of experts on homelessness that will direct the allocation of the funds; and there is precedent in Berkeley of general taxes being used precisely how they were advertised when there is also a board directed to allocate the funds (such as with the 2014 soda tax and the 2016 landlord tax). In addition, there is a strong progressive coalition in Berkeley pushing for Measure P that are prepared to hold the city accountable if the funds are not allocated properly. Thus we are fairly confident that the revenue raised will indeed go towards homeless services.
Measure P is directly redistributive: taxing the rich to serve the poor. It also targets luxury developers, "house flippers," and all those who directly profit from the commodification of housing. Current Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín also made the case for Measures O and P in Berkeleyside.
Measure Y: Yes
Measure Y is colloquially known as "Close the Loopholes" because it closes a major loophole in Oakland eviction protections: Currently, tenants who live in duplexes and triplexes can be evicted without cause if the owner lives in another unit in the building, denying them the protections against arbitrary eviction already enjoyed by renters of single-family homes and apartments in larger buildings. It would also give the city council authority to expand eviction protections on its own in the future, lowering the barriers to future tenants' rights fights.
In the Oakland City Council debate about this measure, tenants testified that the new owners of a building will often temporarily move into a unit, or pretend to do so, in order to displace long-time tenants benefiting from rent control. The measure was buffeted by a recent scandal in which real estate agents were caught coaching would-be buyers on how to evict their tenants using this loophole, in order to take advantage of vacancy decontrol and jack up the rent.
While it's an incremental, loophole-closing reform, Oakland has a lot of duplexes and triplexes (it's estimated this law would cover up to 8,000 homes), and they constitute a significant portion of "naturally" affordable housing in the city (a regrettable term used to describe housing that is not subsidized or regulated to low cost as part of a developer agreement, but is instead priced low on the open market). This is the type of affordable housing that's most accessible to the poor, to undocumented people, and those with precarious or off-the-books income, because it does not require proof of eligibility or extensive paperwork. In short, the loophole it it closes is a big one, and doing so would have substantial material benefit to our base, and bring us one step closer to universal rent control after Prop 10 passes.
Measure Y has been the subject of a strident campaign by landlords worried about losing their freedom to take people’s homes without cause. It has the support of tenants groups and other working-class organizations. You can read a bit more about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.
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