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Letters to the Editor

Saturday September 09, 2000

ADA gray areas need clarity 



I am writing to express my praise for the officers that were involved in the arrest of Michael Minasian on this past Sunday at Jupiter restaurant in Berkeley. I am the shift manager that signed the arrest warrant. The officers responded to a very difficult call, one that involves at best, what can be referred to as grey areas within the Americans with Disabilities Act. The officers acted responsibly and it was Mr. Minasian who became beligerent. In my opinion Mr. Minasian is attempting to exploit the law. According to a representative that I spoke with at the Department of Justice, when a person with no visible physical impairment whose dog bears no identifiable markings claims the the dog is a service animal, one can inquire as to the role and nature of the dog. After that inquiry is made, it is unclear under the act at what point federal law is violated. It is very important to note that at no time did I inquire into the nature of Mr. Minasian's disability. I did however make inquiries about the dog in an effort to comply with local health code requirements. The newspaper accounts unfortunately do not accurately state this. I have already received a personal apology from San Francisco Chronicle writer Henry Lee for his inaccurate account of the events that day. 

The ADA is a vital law and I am a proponent of it. But the grey areas that still exist need clarification. Do police officers need to obtain a warrant when responding to a call of this nature, before they can attempt to verify the veracity of one's claim. Do they need to obtain a warrant to inquire as to the function of the dog? Are merchants required to accept at face value the assertions of anyone with a dog? 

According to the Department of Justice, in a situation like this, a merchant is supposed to make a subjective call as to the validity of the customers’ claim. This is an unreasonable standard to set. If you make the wrong call you face a lawsuit. Service dogs should simply be required to be registered and readily identifiable. This simple solution would have kept a city official out of jail without jeopardizing his federal rights. 


Joe Bisbiglia 

Shift Manager, Jupiter Cafe, Berkeley 



Smith’s support of ‘mean spirited’ legislation astounding 



Thank you for the incisive front page coverage of the candidates running for City Council District 6 and their positions on Measure Y. 

I was astounded that candidate Norine Smith supports this mean-spirited piece of legislation which, as the other candidates correctly mentioned, will result in landlords not wanting to rent to the elderly, disabled, and the poor. 

Smith ironically states that she would poll people to gauge their concerns on a given issue. The facts about Measure Y are anathema to this admirable position. Measure Y was placed before the Council at the eleventh hour without the benefit of any public input or debate despite the fact that a similar measure which became law in San Francisco in 1998 was followed by an unprecedented increase of Ellis type evictions.  

The Ellis Act is a state law which allows owners to go out of the rental business with the provision that all units in the building must be vacated and not offered for rent again for a ten year period. 

A recent SF Chronicle article provides the statistics for Ellis evictions in that city: there were 17 for the fiscal year 97-98 while for the two subsequent periods following the passage of San Francisco’s measure equivalent to Measure Y this figure increased to 116 and 209 respectively; nearly a tenfold increase. 

Measure Y perfectly sets the stage for Ellis evictions via one of its provisions which grants attorney’s fees to any tenant - regardless of age, income or length of tenancy - in the event he or she prevails in an owner move-in eviction action. 

Ask any attorney about the myriad ways this could happen on a technicality and you get the answer for the high incidence of Ellis evictions in San Francisco. An owner who must move into his or her own property will avoid this potential legal quagmire by invoking Ellis, even if the intent of the owner was to only occupy one of the units involved. 

Tenants who otherwise would not have been affected find themselves evicted and forced to seek housing at a time when all agree there is a housing crisis. 

This brings us full circle; what if some of these ousted tenants happen to be elderly, disabled or poor? What will their chances be in their competition for housing?  

Given that hordes of prospects show up to apply for any reasonably priced Berkeley apartment for rent, Measure Y will put them at a disadvantage. 

Ms. Smith, as a candidate for City Council, displays little knowledge of the facts surrounding this issue. 

Measure Y is merely another regulation that will only result in the further decrease in the number of tenants in the protected categories and the further erosion in the number of Berkeley rental units. It only advances the careers of some local politicians and makes lawyers wealthy by preventing middle class owners from acquiring their own homes.  


Robert Cabrera 


President, Berkeley Property Owners Association 


Rent board member to blame for tight rental market 



Stefanie Bernay's recent hate parade at a gathering of the Berkeley  

Property Owners Association underscores a generation of continued false promises made by Berkeley housing activists to UC Berkeley students. 

Over twenty years ago, tenant activists, in a fanatically desperate attempt to court the all-important student vote, had promised students they would be the primary beneficiaries of the most draconian rent control law in U.S. history. Yet students eventually found themselves shut out of the marketplace due to these misguided, bungled, and destructive housing policies. 

The situation has worsened in today's rental housing market, thanks to the efforts of Bernay and her colleagues on the Rent Board. Berkeley's austere rent control laws mean that owners are no longer allowed to be fair and reasonable when setting new rents. Owners have no choice but to set exaggeratedly higher rents, knowing that a vindictive, irrational  

Rent Board will make it impossible to raise those rents in future years.  

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly 65 percent of Berkeley's rental units are inhabited by long-term tenants who enjoy rents at 50 percent of bay area housing market levels. Although the Rent Board is mandated by law to allow owners to pass on reasonable inflationary increases to these  

tenants, the Board refuses to do so. The rent board has simply gone too far by denying these increases. 

The owners who gathered together during Bernay's “protest” have been denied millions of dollars in revenue, thanks to Bernay's actions.  

The pending lawsuit against the rent board is not only justifiable, it is non-defensible by city attorneys, and promises to be yet another ugly chapter in Berkeley's never-ending series of hate crimes against rental housing providers. 


Leon Mayeri