Chapter 17 -November 1978 – Rent Control Round 3

Note: This history was written by David Mundstock and republished here with his permission. The opinions in this piece are his and do not necessarily reflect the positions of BCA members. For original link go to

The November 1978 Campaign

Following the established pattern, BCA conducted its November 1978 campaign for another lengthy slate totaling l5 separate endorsements:

* Ron Dellums for re-election to Congress.

Dellums’ Republican opponent was Charles Hughes, the l977 Berkeley City Council candidate who ran as an independent conservative. Hughes was not a serious threat to Dellums. But as the GOP’s Congressional nominee, Hughes had a forum to continue his partisan attacks against the Republican/BDC alliance. Hughes was now in a position of rising influence from which he could threaten the Conservative Coalition’s electoral stability in l979.

* Tom Bates for re-election to the Assembly, l2th District. His Republican opponent was Robert Niemann.

* Elihu Harris for Assembly, l3th District.

Following his primary victory, Elihu persuaded Beth Meador’s supporters that he harbored no grudges and wanted to be on good terms with the Dellums-Bates-George coalition. BCA was more than willing to make peace with our next Assemblyman, whose election was a certainty. Harris stayed neutral on the major Berkeley contests.

* Mervyn Dymally for re-election as Lieutenant Governor and Yvonne Braithwaite Burke for Attorney General.

Burke had previously won BCA’s backing in her successful June Primary race against Los Angeles City Attorney Burt Pines. Ironically, former CCC leader David Poindexter received his first state-wide campaign experience working for Pines.

Whether to support Governor Jerry Brown for re-election was the major subject of debate at BCA’s October l5, l978 general membership meeting. But enough BCA people perceived Brown as unprincipled and/or conservative to produce the inevitable verdict of no endorsement.

From a BCA perspective, Brown’s enthusiastic embrace of Proposition l3 after its passage seemed much too opportunistic. However, it was just that kind of smart politics which enabled Brown to handily defeat his Republican opponent, Attorney General Evelle Younger.

At this time only black Democrats for state-wide office were able to win BCA’s endorsement. Coincidentally, they both lost. But support for Burke and Dymally represented another small step towards BCA’s acceptance of its relationship with the Democratic Party.

* Rose Bird for confirmation as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

Bird was being challenged by a right-wing campaign that came very close to unseating her in 1978, a bad omen for the future.

* Helen Burke for re-election to the East Bay Municipal Utilities (EBMUD) Board.

Burke had a serious opponent in James Sweeney, former Berkeley Vice-Mayor Wilmont Sweeney’s nephew. This was by far the most interesting local candidates race.

* Roy Nakadegawa for the AC Transit Board. Roy, a veteran of progressive politics, had been on the AC Board for six years as Berkeley’s district representative. He was now running for the at-large seat to expand the influence of environmentalists. In the event of victory, Roy’s supporters such as PACE (the Political Action Coalition for the Environment), assumed that the Berkeley vacancy could be filled by a like-minded person, for a net pick-up of one seat. That is exactly what happened.

* Will Ussury for the BART Board in a trans-bay black district that included sections of San Francisco, Oakland and a small slice of south-west Berkeley.

But November l978’s main fireworks were provided by the state and local ballot measures upon which the BCA campaign was centered:

* No on 6, State Senator John Briggs’ anti-gay initiative, which threatened a witch-hunt against homosexuals in California’s schools.

BCA’s vigorous work against the Briggs’ initiative was largely due to the efforts of Leland Traiman. Leland personified gay rights issues within BCA as he greatly raised the organization’s consciousness in this area.

* No on 7, Briggs’ capitol punishment initiative, a more right-wing version of the California death penalty law already enacted by the Legislature over Governor Brown’s veto. This measure carried the state, proving once again that a majority of the voters really do support capitol punishment.

* No on H, Warren Widener’s self-serving Charter Amendment establishing a run-off election for Mayor.

* Yes on I, BCA’s Renter Property Tax Relief Initiative and Number One campaign priority.

* No on J, Widener’s fraudulent rival to I, entitled “Proposition l3 Tax Benefit Ordinance”.

* No on K, the Council majority’s measure to repeal the Berkeley Election Reform Act.

Veronika Fukson, Marty Schiffenbauer, and John Denton, among other BCA people, managed to submit ballot arguments covering all four of the contested local measures. This was a major accomplishment amidst legal chaos and sudden deadlines. The Voters Handbook turned out to be a critical campaign battlefield, providing both sides with their best single opportunity

to pierce the veil of confusion surrounding Measures H, I, J, & K.

Run-off Elections for Mayor (H) (Measure M Re-visited)

City Attorney Michael Lawson’s analysis of this Charter Amendment included a cost estimate of $50,000 per election, a figure which also appeared on the ballot itself. Such a prominent pricetag display severely hurt H.

Widener declined to sign the low-key ballot arguments for his own measure, relying instead on allies such as the leaders of black organizations plus Henry Ramsey and Bill Segesta. Charter Amendment H was offered as a “good government” measure, the “usual practice” for electing mayors in major cities such as Oakland and Los Angeles, both of whose black mayors were pointedly named.

The city-wide Yes on H campaign amounted to nothing more than this sanitized ballot argument which avoided any mention of partisan Berkeley political considerations. Perhaps even Warren Widener was embarrassed by his sudden embrace of the very election scheme he had denounced as racist six years earlier.

BCA’s anti-H arguments were a ferocious attack, reminiscent of the semi-hysterical November l972 campaign against run-off elections Measure M. Except this time, Mayor Widener was on the receiving end. The combination of text and bold headlines screamed this message at the voters:

 The major question raised by this Charter Amendment is simple Shall the voters spend $50,000 or more for a runoff election to satisfy the political ambitions of a mayor who, by his own admission, will have a better chance at re-election with this costly runoff? …







These No on H arguments repeated phrases from the landlords’ victorious April l977 anti-rent control campaign. The signers included Loni Hancock, Carole Davis, John Denton, Gus Newport, and Jack Kent.

I vs. J: Will the Real Rent Control Measure Please Stand Up

The eight I and J ballot arguments, including four rebuttals, were an elaborately choreographed debate between BCA and its opponents:

Yes on I

Despite pre-election promises, few landlords have voluntarily passed on any Jarvis-Gann savings to renters. Many landlords have even increased rents by large amounts. Measure I will correct this unfair situation by giving renters their fair share of property tax relief. …

Tenant rent actually pays for landlord property taxes. Therefore renters, especially the poor, the elderly, students and struggling small businesses, also deserve property tax relief. Measure I is fair to renters and landlords alike and has no financial impact on homeowners.

 No on I

Last year, the citizens of Berkeley overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment to the City Charter which would have imposed rent control in our community. The issues were fully aired and the campaign was hard-fought. The decision was made, but promoters of rent control steadfastly refused to abide by it. …

The voting citizens of Berkeley, homeowners, landlords and renters alike, expressed themselves emphatically on the subject of rent control in l977. We deplore this effort by the sponsors of Measure I to confuse the voters by calling rent control by another name.

N0v1978IJLYes on I, No on J

 Comparing Measure I to the rent control proposal defeated last year is absurd! Unlike the rent control proposal:

* Measure I does not establish a rent control board bureaucracy!

* Measure I exempts small landlords!

* Measure I’s maximum rent provisions have a definite expiration date, December 3l, l979! …

Why is Measure I being fraudulently labeled rent control? Because its opponents want to confuse supporters of Proposition 13 renter relief into voting against Measure I and for the landlord-sponsored Measure J.

Yes on J

 This l00% rebate ordinance does not contain any rent control provisions such as Measure I. The last rent control initiative enacted in Berkeley was declared unconstitutional. A rent control proposal last spring was rejected by the voters. In response to Proposition l3, this ordinance is intended to provide that the property tax benefits are passed on to the people who actually pay those taxes.

No on J, Yes on I

If Measure J actually forces landlords to give renters l00% rebates, why is it any less rent control than Measure I? In fact, neither measure imposes rent control! But they are very different!

Measure I was placed on the ballot by over 7,000 voters. It effectively provides renters property tax relief while enabling landlords to meet all necessary expenses. Measure J, put on the ballot by five council members unsympathetic to tenants, promises l00% rebates but in reality will return 0%.

Yes on J

Opponents of this measure attack it for not providing rent controls. Yet they are unwilling to admit that the measure they support is indeed a rent control proposal!

This measure should by judged on the basis of what it sets out to accomplish – a Full rebate to the tenant of tax savings resulting from passage of Jarvis-Gann.

 In a campaign where credibility was all-important, both sides had their weak spots. BCA’s insistence that Measure I wasn’t “rent control” may have been wise politics, but it amounted to deceptive semantics. On the other hand, Measure J pretended to be a stronger pro-tenant law than its rival, when it actually allowed unlimited rent increases and provided renters with no protection. Measure J’s sole purpose was political deception.

Confusion was a major BCA enemy in the I/J battle. Larry Shapiro and Mal Warwick plastered this immortal slogan on BCA buttons and posters so that Berkeley’s voters could tell the two measures apart:


I = Initiative
J = Jive

Measure K, the Conspiracy Against Campaign Reform, Round 2

The Berkeley Election Reform Act was severely weakened by the events of 1977. (See pages 234-238). But, although enforcement of most remaining campaign contribution limitations had been halted, these provisions were still on the books. Now the Council majority’s Measure K proposed to repeal the entire Berkeley Election Reform Act, except for Section l00 (the title), and Section ll2 (publication of contributors lists).

Measure K was another Widener/Hone fraud on two separate grounds. First, the Council majority called Measure K an “Amendment” to the Berkeley Election Reform Act, even though it repealed 79 of the 8l sections in the law. The Yes on K ballot argument, signed by Sue Hone, had this heading:


Fortunately, both the official ballot title and the City Attorney’s analysis were more informative, specifying that Measure K would “eliminate restrictions on campaign contributions”. The Voters Handbook graphically presented the effect of Measure K by showing the Election Reform Act’s nearly ten pages of text (except for Sections l00 and ll2) completely crossed out. That was the clearest possible depiction of repeal, not amendment.

Secondly, the Council majority’s ballot arguments claimed that the Berkeley Election Reform Act duplicated state law with the minor exceptions of contribution limitations which “are not legal under the First Amendment.”

In reality, the Berkeley Law with its own local enforcement body and unique provisions, was significantly stronger than its California counterpart. The state and local laws had always been intended to work together. Plus, there were no lawsuits against the existing measure’s limits on candidate contributions, while the validity of the ballot measure restrictions was yet to be determined by higher courts.

Sue Hone was literally trying to deceive the voters into repealing her own law, Measures V & W from June l974. Here was perhaps the all-time Berkeley high for hypocrisy.

Ironically, BCA now fought Sue Hone to save her Election Reform Act, which we had originally reviled as Hone’s attack upon our l974 campaign reform initiative. Our political decision in the June l974 campaign to support Hone’s version of the initiative (see pages 87-9l) now received ultimate vindication.

The anti-K ballot arguments stressed the fraudulent nature of the measure and explained that the need for strong, enforceable, local campaign reform was as great now as in l974. Signers of the No on K arguments included Loni Hancock, Florence McDonald, and Patricia De Vito, Chairperson of the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission.

Again perhaps out of embarrassment, the Council majority did not conduct a serious effort on behalf of Measure K. No on K featured prominently in BCA’s slate campaign.

The Fiscal Advisory Measures, L, M, & N

BCA totally ignored the Council majority’s three measures asking for citizen advice on whether the l% real estate transfer tax (Measure L); the l% payroll tax (Measure M); or the l%-3% graduated payroll tax (Measure N) should be implemented. Ballot arguments in favor of all three measures were signed by Mayor Widener and no one else, although in each case the Mayor asked “Do you approve of this tax as an alternative to reduction of services, possibly even including police and fire?”

Thus, Widener took no position on the taxes, but a casual reader of the Voters Handbook might have thought the Mayor was advocating every tax. Ballot arguments against the two payroll taxes were submitted by former Republican Council candidate Allen Leggett, creating the appearance that Widener and the Republicans were fighting over taxation. The voters advised against implementing all three taxes, with the payroll taxes losing by an overwhelming margin. The Council listened, and these taxes still remain in limbo.

The Battle for Rent Control, Round 3

Berkeley Citizens Against Rent Control (CARC) sprang back into action to fight Measure I under the chairmanship of Arnie Cohn. Once more Berkeley voters were besieged by anti-rent control propaganda in the form of No on I mailers, full page newspaper ads, and now by TV and radio commercials.

CARC tried to re-play its April l977 No on B campaign, stressing that Measure I suffered from all the defects inherent in any rent control measure. As usual, CARC prominently displayed the entire Council majority’s opposition to the rent control initiative. CARC anti-I literature carried these typical headlines:






Control Government, Not Housing

We Need Less Government – Not More

We Need More Housing – Not Less

Renters can and will get their share of Proposition l3 tax savings without rent control.

However, CARC’s anti-I campaign never even mentioned Measure J. There was no organized Yes on J activity until, with less than two weeks before election day, mailers arrived from a Renters for J Committee, headquartered in a U.C. Berkeley fraternity. Renters for J literature stressed their measure’s superiority over I from a tenants’ perspective:


(A negative reference to I’s exemption provisions.)

MEASURE J GIVES l00% BACK TO TENANTS (compared to I’s 80%)



Prior to election day, CARC’s campaign disclosure forms showed they had received over $300,000 in contributions, including the following entries which BCA widely publicized in its own election day literature:

California Housing Council, San Mateo $49,5l9

Fox and Carskadon Financial Corporation

and employees, San Mateo 47,500

Lincoln Property Co., Inc., Foster City 3l,072

Bank-America Realty Investors, San Francisco 20,950

Westside Management, Los Angeles* 20,00l

* $5,00l of this total was donated to the

so-called “Renters for J Committee.”

It was that committee’s only reported


Over $200,000 in landlord campaign funds was spent on generic anti-rent control TV ads opposing Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Santa Cruz measures on the November ballot.

The link between landlord money, CARC staff, and the Renters for J Committee became a series of Daily Californian exposes prior to election day. The “Renters for J” unsuccessfully tried to cover-up their landlord connections. These stories by reporter Tom Abate on October 3l and November 3, l978 severely damaged the Yes on J Campaign’s credibility among students and tenants.

The Daily Californian’s October 3l, l978 front page editorial, headlined “Thou shalt not buy elections”, was another severe setback to the landlords, taking away much of their financial advantage:

Moneyed politicos have invaded Berkeley in force this fall intent on sending Measure “I” – the rent rebate initiative down to defeat and instituting the city council-sponsored Measure “J”. We have received some $l,200 from the Renters for “J” Committee – a landlord and realtor-backed group – in the past several days to this effect. However the forces supporting Measure “I,” because they are largely composed of students and renters, have been unable to muster the money necessary to purchase an equivalent number of ads.

We believe no group should be able, by virtue of its well-heeled backers, to purchase an election. While we do not wish to deny the right to advertise, we feel a standard of fairness is being violated by allowing one political group to grossly overspend its opposition.

We have therefore decided not to allow political advertising on Measures “I” and “J” to surpass the 2.5 to l spending ratio already established in our newspaper. We will not be accepting any further advertisements from the supporters of Measure “J” … unless the 2.5 to l spending ratio … can be maintained or decreased.

BCA’s own campus slate campaign, now under the leadership of David Panush, went vigorously forward. Panush was a very able, low-key successor to Dave Poindexter. BCA’s campus effort was highlighted by a pair of extremely well attended Jane Fonda appearances. The alliance between BCA and the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED), headed by Fonda’s husband Tom Hayden, continued to be extremely valuable. Through rallies, precinct work, and literature such as the Berkeley Citizen (Mal Warwick’s campaign tabloid), BCA was getting the Yes on I, No on J message out. The United Democrat also re-appeared as a Bates Campaign publication. It supported all the Democratic Party candidates plus BCA’s local slate.

Burke vs. Sweeney: The fight between environmentalists and developers.

Helen Burke’s first term on the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board had been a lonely experience. With no allies, her motions for a pro-environmentalist, pro-consumer water policy tended to die for lack of a second. But PACE organizers such as David Tam provided Helen with a strong citizen support network.

Helen Burke, 37, thus functioned in the Loni Hancock tradition from the l97l-73 period, challenging the conservative EBMUD Board with one reform proposal after another, on subjects from open government to affirmative action. Helen amassed widespread, enthusiastic support in the environmental community. Her l974 victory had been at large, but with a change to districts, Helen was now running for re-election in a Berkeley-dominated ward.

Helen Burke’s main challenger was James Sweeney, 30, an ambitious young ally of the Berkeley City Council majority. Sweeney hoped to capitalize on his Uncle Wilmont’s famous political name, combined with hefty campaign contributions from development interests that wanted Helen Burke disposed of. Sweeney’s endorsers included Mayor Widener (who seemed to be Sweeney’s role model), Sue Hone, Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson, and the Alameda County Building Trades Council. (Carole Davis’ name was listed as an endorser for both Sweeney and Burke.).

Among the Sweeney campaign’s various mailers was one to the Berkeley black community that pictured Sweeney and Burke side by side. It was a not so subtle call for black support on the basis of Sweeney’s race, while providing the following description of Helen Burke:

* Incumbent politician who represents “anti-jobs” group of elitists.

* Opposes seeking new sources of water so another harmful drought can be averted.

* Supported by League of Conservation Voters, National Women’s Political Caucus, Assemblyman Tom Bates, and other feminist and environmental groups.

Sweeney’s attack upon feminism and environmentalism apparently reflected his perception of black community prejudices. Another fascinating Sweeney mailer was sent to Republicans and attacked Helen Burke in the traditional style used to smear BCA City Council candidates. Signed by Berkeley’s senior Republican leaders, former Mayor Wallace Johnson and former Councilman Tom McLaren, this piece concluded:

The incumbent Helen Burke, who is a supporter of the radical Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) group, must be defeated. Please join us in voting for James W. Sweeney for the EBMUD Board of Directors and help insure a quality water delivery system for you and your children.

Helen Burke collected a range of endorsements that both included and went well beyond the standard Dellums-Bates-George coalition list. These included Senator Nick Petris, Councilman Rumford, and many prominent BDC members such as the club’s recent Presidents, Zack Brown and Noel Nellis. (Helen was a member of both BCA and BDC.) Burke’s low-budget, volunteer oriented, door-to-door campaign stressed these endorsements and her record, while paying little attention to James Sweeney.

The Finish Line

The Daily Californian’s endorsements matched BCA’s on all key local races, with the paper making a special pitch on behalf of Measure I. The Daily Cal’s election day lead story was a California Public Interest Group (CAL-PIRG) report that “Ninety-nine percent of the renters in Alameda County have received no rent reductions or rebates since Proposition l3 passed last June”, while approximately 20 percent of Alameda County tenants had experienced rent increases. Landlords claimed the study was unfair because the new, reduced property tax bills had only recently been issued.

But the Daily Cal/CAL-PIRG story symbolized how Proposition l3 dominated the rent control debate. Right through election day the landlords were on the defensive, a complete turnabout from the April l977 election.

BCA conducted its normal Get-Out-The-Vote effort, slate doorhangers in the morning and doorbell ringing in the afternoon. BCA’s election day literature focused on the landlords’ $300,000 campaign against Measure I.

Since BDC failed to produce a slate campaign for the Council majority’s ballot measure positions, that presentation was left to the Berkeley Gazette. The Gazette backed the Council majority down the line, urging Yes on H, J, & K, plus No on I. Measure K, the Election Reform Act repeal, was labeled by the Gazette as “Conforming campaign laws”. The Gazette opposed all three tax advisory measures, and the only candidate it endorsed was Republican Robert Nieman, who turned out to be running more strongly than expected against Tom Bates. In one area of agreement with BCA, the Gazette urged rejection of both Briggs initiatives, 6 (anti-gay), and 7 (the death penalty).

But while the Daily Cal had entered into the yes on I campaign enthusiastically, the Gazette never went to war over anything on the ballot.

The November 7, l978 Results: 50,287 Berkeley Voters

Ballot Measures

Run-off Election for Mayor (H) YES l4,389(38%)

NO 23,5l7(62%) DEFEATED

Renter Property Tax Relief Initiative (I) YES 26,0l8(58%) APPROVED

NO 18,804(42%)

City Council’s Rent Measure (J) YES 9,544(22%)

NO 33,254(78%) DEFEATED

Repeal of the Election Reform Act (K) YES l6,576(44%)

NO 21,507(56%) DEFEATED


Berkeley District-Wide

Congress, 8th District

ELECTED Ron Dellums (Dem) 34,347(77%) 94,824(57%)

Charles Hughes (Rep) l0,387(23%) 70,48l(43%)

Assembly, l2th District

ELECTED Tom Bates (Dem) 23,l80(73%) 59,570(54%)

Robert Niemann (Rep) 7,425(24%) 46,966(43%)

Tom Condit (PFP) 993( 3%) 3,067( 3%)

East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Ward 4

ELECTED Helen Burke 28,370(69%) 35,349(68%)

James Sweeney 9,268(23%) l2,727(24%)

Pondu-Renga Das 3,296( 8%)

Amidst normal turnout for a November Gubernatorial election, BCA scored one of its greatest victories ever, a 7-0 clean sweep of the major contested Berkeley races: Yes on I, No on H, No on J, No on K, Dellums, Bates, and Burke.

The BCA campaign cost approximately $7,000, giving the landlords an approximate 40 to l spending edge. However the $200,000 anti-rent control TV blitz was clearly wasted on Berkeley’s voters.

Thanks to Howard Jarvis’ Proposition l3, rent control came back from extinction with victories in both Davis and Berkeley. Santa Monica would soon follow suit. Measure I’s 58% of the vote represented a 6% improvement over its June l972 rent control namesake (Yes-52%) and a 2l% jump above Measure B’s dismal showing only l9 months earlier (Yes-37%).

BCA held a November 9, l978 press conference at which Marty Schiffenbauer tried to explain how tenants could insure landlord compliance with the new law. BCA gradually entered the tenant counselling field to try and make Measure I work, much to the displeasure of the Berkeley Tenants’ Union.

BCA’s exuberance over its massive victory was best represented by a Marty Schiffenbauer quote in the November 8, l978 Gazette: Mayor Widener “should resign because his politics have been totally rejected by Berkeley voters.” Mal Warwick was more restrained while enjoying his greatest electoral triumph to date. Meanwhile, Widener shrugged off defeat by claiming he had done little active campaigning for his measures.

Belatedly, CARC spokesmen claimed that Measure J hurt them because landlords were divided over whether to campaign for the measure. Many CARC contributors insisted that their money not be used to back any rent control law, J included. The landlords’ Measure J strategy to trick Berkeley voters was one of the worst political fiascos in local history. Both rent control supporters and opponents voted against J, as it lost by approximately 3 to l in the hills and the black community, while getting bombed 5 to l in the campus area.

Measure I followed the traditional winning pattern for a progressive initiative, with a 3 to l campus victory margin overcoming a nearly 2 to l hill defeat, while I generally came out on top in a divided black community.

Measure H, the run-off election for Mayor, lost nearly everywhere, with the black community delivering the heaviest “No” blow by a 3 to l margin. The legacy of November l972’s Measure M was still at work and Widener would have to face the voters in an April l979 winner-take-all race.

Repeal of the Election Reform Act (K) won in the hills by a small margin, while going down solidly in all other parts of town. BCA saved Hone’s measure from Hone. However, this complicated legal/political battle was far from over. The Council majority did not give up, making another attack on campaign reform in the November l982 election.

Helen Burke’s 3 to l drubbing of James Sweeney was the most overwhelming personal victory of all. Sweeney even lost the black community, carrying only a handful of south-west Berkeley precincts. However, people who thought James Sweeney was finished turned out to be wrong.

Finally, the Briggs’ anti-gay initiative (6) was beaten by California’s voters, with Berkeley contributing a 7 to l margin of defeat. Here was a glorious triumph for the gay community’s political leadership, especially San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Thanks to Leland Traiman, Supervisor Milk had addressed the September l7, l978 BCA general membership meeting. Harvey Milk’s humor and vitality made a tremendously favorable impression on all of us. Leland was helping to create an expanded progressive alliance that brought San Francisco and the East Bay together for the first time. A little over two months later, Supervisor Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated, leaving a political void that can never be filled.