BERKELEY — Everybody has a cross to bear. But William Belford carries his in front of City Hall every morning.
For more than two years, Belford has paced the street in front of Berkeley's city offices. He starts at 8:30 a.m. each business day and leaves in a battered Dodge pickup at 11:30 a.m.
The red paint on the cross is splintered from the summer heat and winter rains.
"I would lose my joy if I wasn't out here every day," the 57-year-old man explained.
His passion: ending Berkeley's rent control.
Belford won't register his six low-rent apartments with Berkeley's Rent Stabilization Board. He built them himself in 1964. The $60 annual fee for each unit has never been paid. With penalties, Belford now owes $16,000.
"It's not because I'm broke," he explained. "But I'm not a slave."
"Slave Board" is what he calls the rent board. Many of his 20 handmade signs carefully placed against City Hall refer to his nemesis.
"Tenants Pay Slave Control Costs," declares one. "Laws Are Made By Ignorant People In Berkeley," is another.
Belford said he will not bow to the board.
"I worked for what I own. I borrowed the money, and I built the apartments. I did it to help people. When I built it, landlords wouldn't rent to black people. I did.
One-bedroom apartments are $165 a month. Two-bedrooms are $293.
"And I built it for my future. For my family's future," he added.
Then rent control came along.
"It seems to me they're putting me on a cross," Belford said. "They're crucifying me because I worked. They take care of people who don't work."
Reaction is mixed.
Rent Board Executive Director Gregory McConnell called Belford a "legitimate protester. And a real decent guy. He's never said to me 'OK, McConnell. Let's make a deal.' "
Instead, McConnell says hello each morning, and Belford responds the same way. "Then we each go to our jobs," the rent chief said with a laugh.
Others aren't so sanguine.
One Berkeley man walked by Belford, grabbed his cross and started down the street. He accused Belford of misusing the cross.
After chasing him and retrieving the cross, Belford returned to the City Hall steps a little out of breath.
"He does that at least once a week," Belford explained. "He's just a nut."